Cool As A Cucumber In A Bowl Of Hot Sauce

Adam Yauch, aka MCA of The Beastie Boys, passed away at the age of 47 yesterday, and while celebrity deaths don’t often get under my skin (I mean, I don’t know these people), this one hit harder than most, probably because I associate the Beasties with effortless cool, fun and, above all, my youth. In my private universe, no one will ever again be as cool as The Beastie Boys were in 1994. As a guy on Metafilter put it, “Check Your Head came out and was like a wrecking ball to us. It could not have been more perfect for who we were or wanted to be, at that point in our lives. It might as well have been created by some platonic, idealized version of us.” And as platonic, idealized versions of us, these guys weren’t supposed to get old. It’s a story as old as rock and roll fandom itself. Namaste, Mr. Yauch.

But enough moping. In memory and in honour of MCA, here’s my personal shortlist of The Beastie Boys’ finest moments:

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Sleight of hand

I’ve been terribly, terribly slow in posting! I’ve been wrapped up in a few things including another, very different blog that I update almost daily. Please visit: A place strange. It’s a blog of my dreams, but I promise it’s better than it sounds.

Recently I saw a very good play called The Small Room at the Top of the Stairs at Tarragon Theatre. I don’t see as much theatre as I’d like, and I’m always impressed with the ingenious ways that plays replicate the sense of a thing, even if they can’t build the thing itself due to budgetary or spatial constraints.

Films are usually more realist in the way that they dramatize their subjects. That is, if you are going to show someone walking up a set of stairs to the door of a small room at the top, you are likely going to use a real set of stairs and a real door. The play I saw, on the other hand, did not; the “stairs” were a series of bars of light on the floor that came and went as the scenes demanded.

The contrast between film and theatre’s styles of representation made me think of one of my longstanding favourite films, Henry and June, a story based on the triangular love affair between Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller and his wife June. Continue reading

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On Record Collecting

I’ve always been a bit of a collector. When I was a little kid I had a collection of bottle caps my dad helped me press onto a cork board. Later I went through phases with stickers (all the rage in grade five), stamps and hockey cards. These days it’s records. But it wasn’t until recently that I gave much thought to the seemingly straightforward – you like something, you gather examples of it – impulse to collect. What got me going was Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past by Simon Reynolds, which includes a chapter (subtitled “Record Collecting and the Twilight of Music as an Object”) about what it means to collect vinyl records in the age of the internet. Why would anyone bother with records when virtually all of them can be found on the internet, for free if you’re so inclined, and stored on a hard drive smaller than one LP (or online, with no hard drive at all)?

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“I am an exceptional thief, Mrs. McClane.”

Die Hard is one of those greater-than-the-sum-of its-parts movies where everything just came together. I’d say it’s the best American action movie of all time (although I am prepared to entertain arguments in favour of Robocop). One of the things everyone loves about it is its villain, Hans Gruber, famously played by Alan Rickman in his first movie role, and he’s everything you want in an action movie bad guy; stylish, formidable, quotable and fun to watch*. But he also has a team of henchmen, and the way they’re portrayed makes the movie even better.

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Beauty and death

SparklersThe main characters in Muriel Barbery’s excellent and moving The Elegance of the Hedgehog spend much time ruminating on, searching for and stumbling upon beauty and the sublime within the confines of their constricted lives.

If the book were an essay, its main argument might be summed up in the scene in which the young and precocious Paloma witnesses a rosebud fall from a broken stem in a bouquet of flowers. The beauty of this tiny movement strikes a chord within Paloma, and she grasps after what it is about this moment that has affected her so.

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For The Love Of Music

A few months ago I was talking about music with a friend my age who said he missed the feeling he used to get when he was younger and heard a song that really shook him to his core in that visceral HOLY SHIT FUCK YEAH!!! way that is, to me, almost unique to music (movies do get there, occasionally)*. I reluctantly empathized, but to my mind this sort of thing is an inevitable aspect of aging; you get older, all of the music you’ve heard piles up, you’re harder to impress…and for better and worse you experience almost everything more intensely when you’re younger. So it goes.

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The joy of searching

To me, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation is a near-perfect film: well made, well told, well performed. The storytelling is focused and controlled and, as with all good stories, the mystery works in pleasing tandem with the main character’s own inherent fears and anxieties.

But beyond quality (pah! quality!) I loved the way the film repeated the conversation, to which the title refers, over and over again. I wish I’d been able to watch this film in the theatre, rather than in front of my laptop with its tinny-tiny speakers, but alas.

The film revolves around an audiotape, and the conversation between a man and a woman recorded on it. The main character Harry, played pitch-perfectly by Gene Hackman, is a surveillance expert who has recorded the tape for a mysterious client.

Harry listens to it over and over again, adjusting the levels and patching the different feeds together in order to get a clear master version of what the couple is discussing. But the more he listens to it, the more anxious he becomes about what the conversation really means and to what end handing the tape over might lead.

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Melancholia and The End Of The World

For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by stories about the end of the world. Post-apocalyptic stuff like The Stand or Earth Abides or The Road – wherein small bands of survivors struggle to survive and maintain human civilization – are okay, but what I’m really drawn to are stories (like Last Night or On The Beach) where EVERYBODY dies.* For a variety of reasons people have always had an appetite for tales of the apocalypse, but what I’m interested in for the purposes of this blog post is my personal reaction to them. Which brings me to Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Julia and I saw it a month ago and while I didn’t think it was entirely successful, it has stuck with me for reasons I will attempt to explain here.

I don’t think it counts as a spoiler to tell you that the film begins with a shot of the titular massive blue planet colliding with Earth and completely destroying it. The thing is, Melanchoia is no more about the literal end of the world than The Hit (a great film about death and how people prepare for and approach it) is about crime. It doesn’t attempt to realistically depict what might transpire in the face of the events the movie dramatizes; the astrophysics are pretty ludicrous and society’s collective reaction to a new planet that may or may not collide with Earth seems rather muted.

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Out of control: The Last House on the Left

I have a special love of horror movies. There’s something compelling about vicariously confronting the abyss, however the film in question defines abyss – death, insanity, damnation, exile, the unknown, abandonment, bodily mutilation and desecration…

But for me, it’s one of the trickiest genres to get right. I’m not an expert, or even a geek, but in this genre I don’t need to be – real horror quickly announces itself. My heart beats faster; my sense of reality starts to warp and wane; I no longer feel like I’m safe, psychologically speaking and…uh…wait – why did this seem fun, again?

At any rate, I recently watched cult classic The Last House on the Left, directed by Wes Craven and released in 1972 (itself based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring – now on my list to view in future).

A house

Not from the movie, but creepy nonetheless.

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