I watched Ingmar Bergman's 1957 classic The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) last night. For those of you who have never seen it, the mark the film left on media is absolutely indelible. Its imagery persists through time, especially in the films of Woody Allen, who loudly and proudly carries Bergman's influence on his cinematic sleeve. One of my favorite Allen films, Love and Death, references it repeatedly, as does Bananas (which, in an irrelevant aside, also takes credit for being one of Sylvester Stallone's first feature film appearances.) This is the film that loosed the robed-and-accented-Death-as-the-Grim-Reaper archetype into pop culture, although the figure eventually evolved into a skeleton in a robe, rather than a pale man. Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, for instance, took Bergman's character wholesale, barely bothering to modify it.
The iconic chess match between the wittily morbid Death incarnate and the unfearing Knight has also been repeatedly referenced. I've spotted it most recently opening Grant Morrison's loving comics-medium paean Seaguy.
My personal favorite (and first witnessed) homage the film was an episode of Animaniacs entitled “Meatballs or Consequences.” On location in Sweden (birtplace and lifelong home of Ingmar Bergman and the setting of The Seventh Seal) for a meatball eating contest, Wakko Warner imbibes one too many and dies, to be escorted into the afterlife by a Swedish-accented Death. The cartoon goes on to parody not just the plot and setting of Seventh Seal, but also the classic lipline-match scene from Bergman's 1966 film Persona. Fun fact: it's one of Bergman's better known pieces of imagery outside of Seventh Seal and was also parodied in Love and Death (roughly 2:20 in. Spoiler alert: Final scene of the film.) Unfortunately, I can't track down the original scene from Persona. Anyway, here's the cartoon. Enjoy!
In unrelated news, my friend Nathan a.k.a. Renegade Accordion (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) was profiled by Thirteen. He busks around the city, playing accordion in his trademark Boba Fett helmet. If you see him, say hello! (He plays parties too, folks.)
Xiu Xiu is coming out with a new album at the end of February (I've already bought my tickets for their New York show in April) and a number of tracks were leaked to YouTube. I can't get enough of this one:
They are the only band I can think of since, perhaps, Joy Division who can pull off an album, track and chorus named “Dear God, I Hate Myself,” and come off as deranged rather than self-piteous. Well, Ian Curtis came off as if channeling Thánatos through his wiry frame. Jamie Stewart, on the other hand, was driven mad by the unknown and unnameable gods of Lovecraft. "Dear God, I Hate Myself" isn't a complaint or a plea for sanctity -- it is an just and vitriolic accusation meant to pierce the heart of the creator for allowing a life such as his to exist. This intense (overbearing, even) theatricality is the heart of Xiu Xiu and my reason for enjoying them as much as I do. There's no way to express these universal emotions without diving into an ocean of hyperbole thicker and more viscerally disturbing than any river running through a Chinese factory. An unflattering review in the SF Chronicle defined Jamie's voice as having...
...perfected the sound of being one misheard remark away from a histrionic breakdown. His choruses are such clingy pleas that they trigger physical discomfort if you're not a fan.
Image co. Xiu Xiu's MySpace
Music reviewer Jennifer Maerz, I have just watched the point whiz by you at Mach 3. I don't think there is a single Xiu Xiu fan alive who isn't physically uncomfortable listening to the band. In the words of Dr. Strangelove, that is the whole idea of this machine. Even the genuinely sweet-sounding songs like “Hello From Eau Claire” contain an unnatural lyrical undercurrent meant for the listeners to awkwardly brush their fingers through their hair in order to have an excuse to avert their ear-gaze from the lyrics.
In related news, Former Ghosts (a side project involving Jamie Stewart, which I have written about here) have finally come out with an official music video. There's a bit of pukin' at the end, if you're sensitive to it:
My favorite episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has to be the South African abomination Space Mutiny. For the two or three of you unaware of the of MST3K, you can read up on it here. It's high-concept to the max: a guy and his two robot buddies sit around and ridicule bad science fiction/horror/etc. movies. Generally, I'm not a fan of ironic consumption and it is rare that I encounter a so-bad-its-good film worth watching. I'm this guy long before my time. Space Mutiny is an exemption by a galactic margin. I mean, even the poster is something else:
Image co. MST3K Temple
Every convention of a deep-space-voyage science fiction film is rendered so poorly that it actually works as a cohesive whole. Half of the film takes place in an honest-to-god warehouse. It's supposed to be on the generation ship Southern Sun but, no, it's just a warehouse. Combine that lazy staging with ham-fisted acting, external scenes literally rented from Battlestar Galactica and omnipresent 1980s computers (wall mounted keyboards!) and you've got the recipe for what is, apparently, one of my favorite films. I've never seen it sans Mike, Tom Servo and Crow's wisecracks, but considering it is impossible to watch the movie without joining in, I doubt it would lose much.
Speaking of wisecracks, there's a running gag in the MST3K version of the film. Protagonist David Ryder's on-screen appearances are consistently barraged with absurd action hero names – “Gristle McThornbody!” “Crunch Buttsteak!” “Smoke Manmuscle!” Considering the show's fanbase, I wasn't at all surprised when a compilation of these turned up on YouTube (unnecessary spoiler alert):
Well, that's all I have to say about Space Mutiny. Oh, hey, did you actually want to, I don't know, watch it? Well, you're in luck! The whole thing is on YouTube, in strikingly good quality (make sure to turn HD on.) I hope you enjoy it as much as I regularly do, friends.
Like a vintage wine, the near future of the mid-1980s only grows finer with age.
Phantasia Press hardcover art. Artist unknown. Click for the king-size version.
I'm doing (serving? sentenced to?) jury duty today - coming in live from Room 261 of the Kings County Supreme Court, even. Thanks to ubiquitous wi-fi and my netbook, it's going a lot better than I thought it would. Just for backup, I packed my DS, Lolita and a Borges anthology. They're not seeing much use thanks to my little eight-inch box o' Internet, however.
I sprung a nosebleed right as they started the orientation. So now I get to tell people I was sitting in the Supreme Court with a bloody nose. Hell of a conversation starter. I don't think anyone noticed, as the young lady next to me still lent me a (bank) pen.
On a personal note, the passing of the new year has left me feeling drained, and probably will continue to drain me until roughly April. I've discussed my sensitivity to the change in seasons previously, so feel free to consult said previous entry if you have any interest in the imminent decline of post quality (albeit not quantity.) I've actually gone ahead and bought a anti-depression lamp, so here's hopin' it blasts away the blues at 100,000 lumens at 8” or whatever the hell the specs on that 200-dollar compact star were.
Right. Considering my vested interest in keeping this an arts and culture affair and not, say, my LiveJournal ca. 1999-2005, here's some bullshit:
Okay, that wasn't really bullshit. That was my favorite result of The Onion's venture into multimedia (with Obama's veto of some very important legislation a close second.) I'm not going to dissect the video for you; if you're not sure what's going on then rent some 1950s horror movies – 1954's seminal bug-hunt Them! immediately comes to mind. I will say that it is the Scientist-Jeff-Goldblum cameo that absolutely made it for me.
Anyhow, I've been Empaneled. Time to go. Excelsior!