Lost in the Movies: August 2015

Tumbling down, tumbling down, tumbling down... (status update)

As summer rolls to an end I find myself in the awkward position of having numerous upcoming posts in the works, but none ready for today. A couple are still awaiting publication in other venues, including a guest post on Welcome to Twin Peaks (discussing my Journey videos) and a YouTube posting of my video collaboration with fellow essayist Covadonga G. Lahere on Jacques Rivette's Out 1. I am also working on a new video for Fandor, and after that will be preparing more videos both for Fandor and for my new YouTube/Vimeo series (next up, a side-by-side analysis of how Twin Peaks and Neon Genesis Evangelion take their viewers for their respective wild rides). I will also be speaking with the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast again soon, this time about the killer's reveal, and that episode will probably go up in early November, when they've finished their coverage of the early second season. And of course, my Neon Genesis Evangelion episode guide and Favorites series (which resumed two weeks ago) are written ahead of time and waiting in my backlog to go up as usual on Wednesdays and Fridays, respectively. So there's a lot on the table, but nothing ready at the moment for my weekly Monday post.

Luckily, the timing is perfect for a status update. In the past week, I finally joined Tumblr - something I've been considering since 2013, but never got around to. The image-heavy rotation is perfect for me, and I've been using the new site to re-share images and videos I've posted in the past, offer new screen-caps or random stills that catch my eye in the present (either from my own selection or by reblogging other Tumblrs), and keep track of my work elsewhere, always with an eye-catching image. I've found it to be a lot of fun, and more than a little addictive, and I hope you'll follow me on there too. It's a great way to both keep track of my work and immerse yourself in my favorite "dancing images" - as this very blog used to be called when it was born in Ye Olde Internet of 2008. Speaking of which, Wonders in the Dark just celebrated their own 7th anniversary and 3,000th post - so hop over and wish them well. As Sam mentioned, and I discussed in the comments, traditional blogs are no longer the hot spots they once were with forms like Facebook, Twitter, and yes, Tumblr, taking over. But blogs still remain the best venue for in-depth commentary and for keeping track of the activity scattered over many different ventures. As such, I think the most active, engaging, and diligent ones will be around for a while yet.

Finally, in other good news about other sites, platforms, and venues, my video 7 Facts About Fire Walk With Me has officially become my most popular creation online (also my video She Would Die for Love, chapter 25 in the Journey series, is now available in Canada, where it was previously blocked). About ten days ago 7 Facts hit 16,500 views, surpassing my top blog posts (most of which had much longer than 7 Facts' nine months to amass their views). And since then it's already amassed close to another 1,000 views. These may not be rock star numbers by others' standards, but I'm extremely grateful for them. Some of my favorite posts or videos have struggled to reach even miniscule audiences, and I'm proud of those too, but if I had to select one work to be my flagship, it would probably this video - created to communicate context and appreciation for an underappreciated film which has only begun to get its due in recent years. If you haven't watched it yet, here's Lost in the Movies' #1 work, 7 Facts About Fire Walk With Me (spoilers, obviously):

Thanks for reading, sharing, watching, and otherwise interacting with my work, and here's to a busy autumn.

The Favorites - Emak-Bakia (#92)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Emak-Bakia (1926/France/dir. Man Ray) appeared at #92 on my original list.

What it is • A dream, a vision, or - as the introductory title puts it - a "cine-poem" made up of various images, many distorted (as usual in photographer-turned-filmmaker Man Ray's famed oeuvre). Some of these images are immediately identifiable: a goggled driver behind the wheel of a motorcar, various women opening and closing their eyes (one with surreal painted eyelids), a man making himself up as a woman in the mirror. Others represent familiar objects, skewed - an electronic sign isolated in inky darkness, overlapping flapper legs emerging from an auto, double-exposed fish swimming across one another's images. Finally there are those inscrutable abstractions, shapes and points of light growing and shrinking, fluctuating in shape as well as size, suggesting unexplored dimensions in our known universe. Together these approaches evoke the world of a sleeper caught between dream and waking, in which recognizable objects take on strange proportions and images from the everyday are cast in bizarre and evocative lights.

Why I like it

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 16 - "Splitting of the Breast"

Earlier this week I published my video "The 3 1/2 Minute Review of Neon Genesis Evangelion"

Also, I'm on Tumblr now! Mostly tumbling in a vacuum though, so please follow & share the stuff you like, if that's your thing.

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

I was going to begin this entry with the comment, "This is where Neon Genesis Evangelion goes off the rails, in the best sense possible." Before doing so, a little internet research turned up the fact that, indeed, this is where the series began to depart dramatically from the original series script - in part based on Anno's own interest in psychology following a period of depression. If the previous episode returned us to character study after a long stretch focusing on action-packed Angel battles, "Splitting of the Breast" fuses this character study with the larger, overarching sci-fi context. The result is one of the strongest episodes yet and, as I was originally inclined to write, a feeling that the self-contained world of the show - with its ever-battered but ever-resilient NERV infrastructure, characters whose flaws and strengths we love in equal measure, and hinted-but-not-quite-explored atmosphere of intrigue and treachery - is starting to disintegrate.

The 3 1/2 Minute Review of Neon Genesis Evangelion (video)

My regular YouTube series begins with the first entry in The 3 1/2 Minute Review. Appropriately enough, it covers Neon Genesis Evangelion, the anime TV show I've been writing about every Wednesday on this site (and will continue to discuss for several months). Not an anime fan? Great! You're actually the person this video is intended for, although of course I hope those who already admire Evangelion will enjoy it too. In less than four minutes, I recap my initial experience watching the show, from initial doubts, to growing interest, and finally captivation as the second half of the series hit its stride. There are no plot spoilers, though I do include images from late in the show. At the end of the video, there's a brief preview for my next video (the first entry in my Side by Side series). Although yesterday I missed the mark by a few minutes, from now on every new YouTube video will go up every other Sunday. As for the next 3 1/2 Minute Review, you can expect it on November 1 (which happens to be my birthday). If you are wondering about its subject, at the risk of giving too much away I'll say that if you think something is missing from the following video it isn't missing - it simply deserves its own independent 3 1/2 minutes of glory.

7 Rooms: montage guide for an abandoned film

Over a year ago, this video was assembled for my own purpose (not originally intended for public viewing): I was planning an anthology of 7 short films. I figured each film would be shot in a different room of a house, echo a different genre, feature a character of a different age, include visuals inspired by a different Catholic sacrament, take place at a different time of day, use a different style of composition, and incorporate themes or visual/musical atmosphere from a different historical era. Before developing the individual stories, I created this montage to see all of the elements in play. Naturally, the concept was so schematic that I never got very far with it! The project was eventually abandoned. Nevertheless, I enjoy some of the musical and visual juxtapositions in this "guide video" and decided to upload it to my Vimeo channel. It's fairly random and obscure, but absorbing enough if you enjoy this sort of thing.

After the video, I've included pictures and brief explanations for each category for those curious about the intended structure. I'm not 100% sure why I was compelled to upload this, except that I have a soft spot for juxtapositions of wildly different yet congruent material, and I enjoy the schematic nature of the progression (especially the historical music and clips).

The Favorites - All the President's Men (#93)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. All the President's Men (1976/USA/dir. Alan Pakula) appeared at #93 on my original list.

What it is • Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) - "Woodstein" as they're affectionately/condescendingly called by their Washington Post superiors - are onto something, and they know it even if no one else does. Then again, maybe they don't; they're hungry pros, keen for the kill, and it almost doesn't matter if the story they're chasing is a chimera or a genuine pot of gold. As it happens, it's the story of the century - a bungled break-in at Democratic headquarters in the foregone-conclusion '72 election which just happens to be a smoking gun with the President of the United States' finger on the trigger. Yet the true pleasures of their pursuit are to be found in the small details: the long wait in the secretary's office broken through by Bernstein's clever phone-in; the endless door-to-door rejections by intimidated witnesses, overcome when the duo finally asserts itself instead of letting frustration take over; the grudging, acerbic respect offered by their casually tuxedo-wearing socialite boss (Jason Robards) when the report they've broken their backs on just barely proves itself worthy of his attention. The film ends with the understated denouement of the decade - typed pronouncements of who was arraigned, arrested, sentenced, and imprisoned, climaxing with the resignation of Richard Nixon in August of 1974, several years after the enterprising reporters were first clued in to the Watergate burglary. Yet this cataclysmic climax is after-the-fact, and the real thrill is in the chase itself; the stakes and scale of the political scandal is just icing on the cake (albeit particularly tasty icing, especially as we draw closer to the conclusion and Hal Holbrook's enigmatic Deep Throat clarifies the risk they run). If ever a movie celebrated the pure thrill of hungry professionals on the hunt, it's All the President's Men.

Why I like it

The Twin Peaks Unwrapped Interview (podcast discussing the first season & my video series)

Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

Within the past year, podcast after podcast has sprouted up to discuss Twin Peaks. Some, like Fire Talk With Me, are "introcasts" exploring each episode spoiler-free with someone who doesn't know what's coming up. Others, like Sparkwood & 21, analyze the series in-depth for the veteran viewers without worrying about giving away plot twists. Still others, like Twin Peaks Rewatch, mix the formats by following an episode-specific discussion with a short spoiler section at the end to look at the big picture. Meanwhile, the original Twin Peaks Podcast, which concluded several years ago (at a time when it could, remarkably, take that title because there were no other podcasts on the subject!), has been offering stray episodes with various Peaks commentators sharing anecdotes and insights into the show - and during their original run they also sported numerous guest hosts and interview subjects (including co-creator Mark Frost and beloved actress Kimmy Robertson).

Twin Peaks Unwrapped offers several of these approaches simultaneously. One host, Bryan Kozaczka, is new to the show (and struggling not to jump ahead, though fortunately he has avoided spoilers for the central mystery). The other, Ben Durant, has been watching Twin Peaks since it first aired in 1990 and guides his co-host through this universe with passion and expertise. The podcast also incorporates details gleaned from records of the show's ratings and interviews from the old-school fanzine Wrapped in Plastic...whose publisher, John Thorne, will be interviewed in an upcoming episode. Indeed, in addition to episode-by-episode coverage the podcast has already paused to interview many Twin Peaks personalities, including Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks author Brad Dukes, Welcome to Twin Peaks curator Pieter Dom, and the Log Lady herself, Catherine Coulson.

I was quite honored to join this august company when Ben and Bryon invited me on to discuss the first season as well as my own video series, Journey Through Twin Peaks. The resulting interview runs ninety minutes and covers the genesis of my videos, anecdotes about where Lynch and Frost were coming from, the strengths of Frost's vision in the first season, the early episodes of the second season, the various supernatural possibilities of Bob and the owls, Bryon's speculations about who killed Laura Palmer, and more:

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 15 - "Those Women Longed For the Touch of Others' Lips, and Thus Invited Their Kisses"

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

It's all about intimacy...fleeting, insecure, perhaps impossible, but yearned for nonetheless. For the late-twentysomethings attending yet another wedding, this intimacy is located in the past, a hazy, alcohol-fueled remembrance of carefree college days. These memories may be as chimerical as the guests' own tipsy reflections in the lounge's glass windows, hovering against the dreamy cityscape beyond. For the bratty, boisterous teenage girl this intimacy exists in her restless imagination, perpetually contradicted by the messy facts of life - an older man entirely uninterested in her childish crush, or an awkward roommate whose suffocating kiss is "definitely not something to do to kill time!" For the lonely boy at the story's center this intimacy is buried somewhere beyond reach, his bond with his father emphasized by the anniversary of his mother's death yet only made more elusive by her absence.

True Detective: thoughts on seasons 1 & 2

There are spoilers for both seasons of True Detective, which I just covered in a viewing diary.

When I finished reviewing season 1 of True Detective a few months ago, I realized that beneath the confident virtuosity of the show's presentation was a fundamental confusion about what it really wanted to achieve. Was it an eerie, atmospheric exploration of occult iconography and themes? Or did it use esoteric elements as window dressing for a fairly straightforward procedural tale? Were the main characters deeply flawed antiheroes in the vein of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, or Mad Men? Or were their blunders and blemishes, once again, window dressing to gussy up standard hero-cops for the gritty modern era? Despite being clearly organized around the perspectives of the two detectives, did the narrative strive to recognize and honor the points of view of supporting characters (most notably Marty Hart's wife and oldest daughter), and even minor characters in the eclectic ensembles, like the young prostitute or the alcoholic preacher? Or were they too window-dressing, added to suggest the aura of a sprawling saga with numerous voices without actually putting in the hard work of sustaining such ambition? Was the ominous statewide conspiracy integral to the story, its larger object despite being anchored in a particular case? Or was it... well, you get the picture. Did True Detective have true gravitas or, to paraphrase a famous dismissal of Twin Peaks, did it have nothing at all in its gritty little head except the desire to impress?

Coming Attractions on my YouTube channel (video)

For six months, my YouTube channel has been inactive as I considered how best to follow up my Journey Through Twin Peaks series. Now I'm ready to unveil the way forward - four ongoing series, each a different approach to the video essay, followed by a random post every ten weeks before the cycle repeats. The following "intro" video explains this in greater detail:

Lost in the Movies for 7 Days: a status update for the coming week...and year

I celebrated 7 years of blogging exactly a month ago, and with that flimsy excuse, I am here to announce 7 straight days of new posts starting today with this intro and concluding with an entry that also centers on the number 7. Next week Lost in the Movies will settle into a very long-term 3-day weekly schedule: random (mostly video) Mondays, TV viewing diary Wednesdays, Favorites series Fridays. The only exception will be if I decide to review a second series in addition to the one being covered on Wednesdays (like how I recently wrote about True Detective on Tuesdays). In addition to filling every day, this week will also open and close several ongoing ventures.

Here's what in store through August 22 (updated with links to the completed posts):

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 14 - "Weaving a Story"

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow blogger Bob Clark (Murderous Ink will return next week).

In many ways, this feels like a filler episode: re-using previous footage, retracing past events, attaching several disjointed sequences, and limiting the central dramatic crisis to a few minutes of screentime. Even the ending - Unit-00 marching down a long corridor with the never-before-mentioned "Lance of Longinus" - initially strikes us as a non sequitur. Certainly this has less of a narrative throughline than any of the earlier chapters, especially considering the last few episodes were settling into the groove of "standalone adventures with our Eva pals."

True Detective season 2 episode 8 - "Omega Station"

This True Detective viewing diary is being written while the new series airs. As such, future readers need not worry: there are no spoilers for upcoming episodes.

The first season of True Detective used the hook of its plot to lure viewers into what was essentially a character study. The finale - despite many loose ends - essentially maintained this facade, hinging its climax around the discovery and confrontation with the killer whose gruesome crime opened the series. We lingered with the characters after this climax passed, allowing the season to close on their personal rather than professional resolutions but Pizzolatto maintained a balance between resolving the mystery and emphasizing the narrative arc of the heroes. The second season of True Detective, whose plot has been far more byzantine, tips this balance emphatically toward the characters: rather than lead us further into the intrigue, they essentially become its focal point. This is achieved by dumping answers early in the episode but also by the general, diffuse nature of the conspiracy so that it eventually seems less important for itself than for the threat it provides to our three remaining protagonists. The result is a satisfying, fast-paced, and fairly engrossing ninety minutes - flawed to be sure, but correct in its priorities.

Talkin' WA ... a conversation on art, criticism & Woody Allen w/ Alex Sheremet, author of Woody Allen: Reel to Real

A year ago, writer and critic Alex Sheremet contacted me about his newest project. After editing the Take 2 guide to Woody Allen's work, which included some of my reviews (as did its predecessor, the Take 2 guide on Steven Spielberg), Alex had immediately followed up with another e-book for the same publisher, Woody Allen: Reel to Real. In this work, the author guides the reader through every single one of Allen's films, his work as an actor, and also the critical engagement with his work as represented - or misrepresented - by six critics: Roger Ebert, Dan Schneider, James Berardinelli, Pauline Kael, Ray Carney, and Jonathan Rosenbaum (whose subsequent exchange with Alex concludes this section). Alex wanted to discuss the book with me, and I agreed, but the book is long (627 pages according to Amazon), I had some major projects and so the conversation kept getting postponed. He was very patient, and when I was finally able to tackle the work I discovered it was worth the wait: despite its length, I read the entire text in a few days, glued to the screen by the author's passion and rigor. (My review of Reel to Real has just been posted on Amazon, where you can purchase a Kindle version.)

Throughout the book, Alex keeps his eye on both the particular - the specific Allen film in question - and the general - not just Allen's entire body of work, but the operation of art and criticism as a whole. I found myself both frustrated and fascinated by Alex's assertions of objectivity, his frequently casual dismissals of celebrated works by other artists, and his implicit (and, by the end of the book, explicit) privileging of intellectual over intuitive appreciation. I agreed with a great many of his conclusions, possibly the majority, yet often questioned his overarching philosophy. As such, I couldn't wait to talk with him. The following conversation was conducted via email, and actually represents only half of our correspondence. The other half centered around meta-issues of criticism and art, featured much longer individual responses from each of us, and will be presented in an upcoming update of Alex's book (in its "DigiDialogue" capacity, the e-book is continually revised as new readers engage with the text and its author over the years; if you buy it now, future updates will be free). To engage with Alex's work yourself, or read the surrounding discussions, you can visit his website. Although Woody Allen's work provides our premise, the resulting conversation wanders far afield...something the prodigious and eclectic auteur would, himself, undoubtedly appreciate.

• • •

Come, Sweet Death: a video tribute to The Phantom Carriage & Wild Strawberries

My most recent video has gone up on Fandor Keyframe (it has since been moved to my personal channel). Here is the introduction I gave them:

In The Phantom Carriage (1921), Swedish director Victor Sjöström played a man forced by death (or, rather, Death) to confront his unhappy life. Thirty-six years later, as an old man close to death himself, Sjöström returned to this concept in Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. “Come, Sweet Death” explores the macabre, poignant, disturbing images and words of these two films, sometimes side-by-side, sometimes back-to-back. Death was an important subject for both Sjöström and Bergman, not so much for its own sake, but for the ways it illuminated life itself.

The video appears after the jump:

Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode 13 - "Lilliputian Hitcher"

This series is an episode guide to the Japanese anime television show Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995 - 96) and the spin-off films. Each entry includes my own reflection on the episode, followed by a conversation with fellow bloggers Bob Clark and Murderous Ink.

While the previous episode was more interested in the thoughts and feelings of the characters than the mechanics of their battle plan, in "Lilliputian Hitcher" the two approaches are intimately linked. The metaphor is explicated when Ritsuko describes how NERV's operating system (Magi) was designed to reflect her own mother's various roles - as mother, scientist, and woman. In Neon Genesis Evangelion, even the machines have feelings and it takes the most (seemingly) cold character to make us aware of this. As with humans, this sensitive structure makes the machines both powerful and vulnerable. This link between human and inhuman is echoed when Misato observes that the angels are "searching for a system that can cope with any situation." Think an alien, Terminator-like mechanical ruthlessness, right? But as Vice Cmdr. Fuyutsuki immediately adds, "That's truly the system of life itself."

True Detective season 2 episode 7 - "Black Maps and Motel Rooms"

This True Detective viewing diary is being written while the new series airs. As such, future readers need not worry: there are no spoilers for upcoming episodes.

Once again, my True Detective coverage has been bumped up to a Monday; this week's random post (my latest video) will go up on Thursday instead. The season 2 finale will probably go up on Tuesday next week.

"Black Maps and Motel Rooms" is certainly the most straightforward True Detective episode title in two seasons, suggesting that the show has burnt through its reservoirs of cagey artfulness and is ready to settle for straightforward procedural description. Well, so am I. I'm thankful for last week's episode but as expected it was a glimpse of season 2's potential greatness, not a sign that this greatness would be consistently realized. How could it be, when this glimpse arrived nearly 3/4 of the way into the season? Episode 7 continues the plot-heavy trend of the post-shootout episodes; similarly to episode 7 of the first season, it sidelines character development in favor of escalating the investigation and leading us to the doorstep of the killer. Although this time we are not provided with a definitive answer, most signs point toward Caspere's secretary, who was probably the orphaned girl from the jewelery heist in '92. In several significant ways, however, this penultimate episode differs from season 1's.

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