Thursday, 17 July 2008

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Lindon Barrett, RIP Earlier today, I learned a man I rarely agreed with had been murdered. Seven years ago, Lindon Barrett had the gall to inform me—a grad student at the institution in which he held tenure—that I was full of shit. I dealt in "useless abstraction," to quote from his comments on my seminar paper, and I hated him for writing that. He was, of course, absolutely correct. The man loved to argue, but he gave you room and time enough to state your case. But the combativeness of the seminar room relented in office hours, as when I went to speak to him about my paper on "Rip Van Winkle" and the legacy of American slavery. (To reiterate: I was full of shit.) His voice barely above a whisper—he had lectured earlier, he said, and lost it reading Frederick Douglas too enthusiastically—he helped bring order to my swirling mess of thought. I've been reading the comments posted elsewhere tonight, so I don't want this to sound like a criticism, but I can't help but remember how Barrett responded to a short paper I turned in on Clotel; or, The President's Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States: "Sentiment is a ruse." And I'd fallen for it. I was the white guy who read anti-slavery tracts and felt damn fine about himself for bravely opposing slavery a hundred years after the fact. Barrett told me I should've turned my attention to the racist logic underlying the self-congratulatory victory laps I was running, but I was young and possessed an abiding faith in the epicness of my egalitarianism. He was, of course, absolutely correct. I still think he was wrong about a host of other things, but tonight I dispose any particular disagreements we may have had, to say plainly, with thunder, I wish we'd had the opportunity to have them.
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The Dark Knight, IMAX Edition Two considerations before reading the following: I've never been to an IMAX theater before. I'm deathly afraid of heights. Make that three considerations: Batman likes to jump off skyscrapers. You can imagine the effect of sitting before a three-story, visually immersive—in the it occupies your entire field of vision sense—screen, watching a film whose resolution is ineffably crisp, and seeing this: Now imagine a body violating the laws of anatomy as a stomach plummets and two testicles ascend, and you'll have a quaint approximation of the mortal dread I felt as Batman soared through the new, shinier Gotham in which The Dark Knight is set. This sensation was repeated several times during the film, during both establishing shots and action sequences involving falling bodies and cords no thicker than a mouse cable. But I don't mean this to be a technical review of a visceral experience.* To quote Wally, The Dark Knight is pure, unadulterated "YES." If possible, Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker is underrated by the critical hype machine. It is not one which will be unjustifiably memorialized on the heels of his tragic death, as I suspected, but a genuinely disturbing portrayal of a self-important agent of chaos. If, like me, you were somewhat put off by the inconsistent voices and tics in the previews, let me ease your concerns: they pervade the film and are, in fact, the point. The thing with his tongue that looks annoying in the trailers? It is annoying, and it unsettles you throughout the film, and should, because Ledger wanted to annoy you. He wanted for you to be mesmerized in disgust, and he pulled it off. In essence, I agree with Neurotopia, except for the part about the Joker never being funny. As I mentioned there, the audience at my showing demonstrated a nuanced appreciation of humor—not at all what you would expect from a crowd of fanboys with painted faces. The two moments in particular I'll relate in detail, because I can't ruin execution-dependent scenes. In the first, Ledger's Joker sits down and says "Hi." In the second, he pushes a detonator and things blow up. He looks disappointed, pushes the detonator again, and things blow up bigger. Speaking actorly—I played Hamlet in 11th grade, in a performance notable for me stepping on Olphia's dress and her baring her breasts to an auditorium full of adolescent males, so I know of what I speak—the second scene could only be performed by someone with a deep understanding of physical comedy. Chaplin's amble, Chico's look of disgust, Keaten's slumped shoulders, they're all visible on Ledger's body. It's a studied performance, brilliantly executed by someone who felt the need to augment natural talent with diligent research. The ways in which this scene could've fallen flat—slipped into an unfunny Tarentino meta-commentary on the silent film tradition—are many and varied and Ledger skirted them all. Three more notes, as I don't want to exhaust the topic tonight—I loves me my Batmans—so I'll just touch...

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