Monday, 26 July 2010

Fall Comics Courses: "American Manga" and "Coming of Age" I'm teaching two sections of my comics course in Fall 2010, and instead of relying on all the Batman or Alan Moore material, I decided to test-drive chapters from the upcoming book. The first is called "American Manga," and in it I'll be teaching the first book and the film adaptation of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, a few episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim. You'll note that I've chosen three series that have been adapted into films, but am only teaching one of the films. The idea is to get them to write about the films I'm not teaching with the tools they acquired from the one I did. Or they can focus on what the process of Americanization actually entails. (To that end I thought about including Cowboy Bebop and Serenity because they act like mirror images of each other: the former imagines fleeing a barely inhabitable Earth into a universe that is ostensibly Japanese, but heavily indebted to an explicitly American cultural ethos; the latter imagines fleeing "Earth that was" into a universe that is ostensibly frontier America, but heavily indebted to an explicitly Chinese cultural ethos. But then I tried lesson-planning that transoceanic cultural exchange and my head exploded.) The second is called "Coming of Age" at the moment, but could be changed into something along the lines of "Confessional Comics" depending on what other material I include.* To date I've selected Craig Thompson's Blankets and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, and while I know there are a million other indie comics that fit the bill, outside of Ghost World I can't think of any other "Coming of Age" comics that have been adapted into film. (My general aversion to Clowes is the only reason I'm disinclined to use it.) As this is certainly a byproduct of a general summer malaise, I wonder what obvious item I'm overlooking. *If I lose the focus on "Coming of Age" and switch to the more general "Confessional Comics," I could obviously include Pekar and his film.
Bit more on Inception I’ve taken a lot of interesting flak [thanks Donald!] for my non-review of Inception, but before addressing it, I want to address Anderson’s comment at my old haunt: People who think Inception was “a royal piece of smoldering crap” haven’t seen enough genuinely bad movies, and really should never leave the safety of The Criterion Collection. I’m inclined to agree: if someone judges it to be worse than anything Michael Bay’s ever directed, they deserve their time in latte-sipping purgatory. As someone who strongly disliked the film, I can safely say that I didn’t think it an inferior film to Transformers. But to even head in that direction completely misses the point. I wasn’t judging the film as a film, a summer film, or a summer blockbuster film, but as a piece of Christopher Nolan’s body of work. The scale doesn’t slide from Bay to early Coppola; it’s internal to Nolan’s oeuvre, and as I’m not a critic who needs to concern himself with guiding the wallets of moviegoers, I’m free to discuss or be disgusted by Inception at will. Put differently: had I been unfamiliar with Nolan’s previous ventures, in all likelihood I would have enjoyed this film. But the obverse of that statement is that because I’m intimately familiar with his earlier work, I’m incapable of enjoying the film. I can appreciate its technical virtuosity and plot machinations, but this is old hat for Nolan. He’s already filmed a movie in reverse, so the fact that he can film one up didn’t rivet me. I found it predictable and disappointing, not kin to the Transformers franchise. I walked out for the same reason I stop fiddling with a Rubik’s Cube once I’ve solved it: the joy of a puzzle comes from the puzzling through it. Without any strong connection to any of its characters, Inception felt like a puzzle. Now, my friend Adam Roberts contends that my inability to sympathize with any of the characters is the result of my living a barren, childless existence. Adam beefs: Almost up to the last scene I was ready to come out of the cinema snarky, geared to join the the Nolan-ripe-for-a-backlash mob. Then with only a minute to go, the two kids turned and looked at the camera. I felt as if somebody had sheathed a sword in my chest. I felt genuinely, suddenly, unexpectedly, very moved. In part I think this is because Nolan prepped the scene with just enough, but not too many, earlier shots of the kids playing with their backs to us, and exiting camera right without turning to look at us. And in part it has to do with the peculiarly cinematic emotional entanglement of the scene: because I wanted the kids to look at me, but at the same time I kind-of dreaded the kids turning to look at me … The one thing which cinema can’t traduce, because it is the horizon of all cinematic possibility. The look. And the selective withholding that...

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