Thursday, April 24, 2008

How to Use a Sledgehammer

I just got home from a performance of the The Laramie Project by the graduating MFA students of the National Theatre Conservatory. One of the great challenges of art is dealing with intense emotions without descending into melodrama, and in many ways it can be harder to avoid that pitfall when the material is drawn from reality, as opposed to a purely fictional situation. The great achievement of this play and the triumph of these actors was that they were able to reach the most dramatic peaks of emotional intensity without ever sacrificing the intellectual thrust of the narrative.

Back in January I saw and commented on the play Lydia, and it failed where the Laramie Project succeeds. This play reached the same levels of emotional intensity, but that visceral impact never felt like a gratuitous or manipulative action on the part of the actors, director, or playwright. On the contrary, the play was brilliant because it took the great aesthetic risk of having a purpose. It was neither didactic nor melodramatic, and yet it contained an almost frightening emotional intensity.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Subverting conventions

A few weeks ago I went to see the film Run Fat Boy Run, and although it wasn't bad, I left the theater feeling disappointed. Simon Pegg had won me over with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, and I went into this one expecting to see it do for the inspirational sports movie what the other two had done for zombie gore-fests and buddy cop action flicks. Unfortunately, what I discovered is that as stale as the cliches of the sports movie genre have grown, it has yet to reach the point where a film could get away with reversing them. Just think what would happen if you tried to make a sports movie in which the hero triumphs by quiting in the face of adversity. Perhaps someday it will happen, but this film didn't even try.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What a cinematic painting! It's so much better than that theatrical novel.

Robert Pinsky has a piece about poetry in Slate today that I couldn't let pass without comment. Why Don't Modern Poems Rhyme? is set up as a casual FAQ about poetry, and he makes some interesting points, but some of his responses are oddly lacking in analysis for a piece that is supposed to be answering questions. "Read this" is a rather unsatisfying answer when one has a legitimate question. He also makes a great point about the false nostalgia that imagines that there was some kind of Golden Age in which poetry was "easy to understand and great".

What I really wished he had addressed in more detail was the question of song lyrics as poetry. Ben (who is a musician) and I have debated this point on a few occasions, and the point I always come back to is that they are two different forms of art that work in different ways. One of the flaws that turns me off to a lot of contemporary music is that each song is so packed with lyrics that the balance between the emotional content of the words and the emotional content of the sound is thrown completely out of whack. The claim that song lyrics are poetry implies that music cannot stand on its own merits, that it needs to draw upon poetry because the medium lacks artistic validity.

It's a back-handed compliment when an artistic work is compared to another medium in a way that implies that the other medium is inherently superior. It reminds me of a recent class discussion about what it means to say that Henry James has an "Impressionist" style of writing. A novel is not a painting, and it is demeaning to the writer's craft to give up on trying to understand a piece of writing on its own terms by clumsily applying the language of a different artistic discipline.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Congratulations! Here's your aluminum-alloy medal.

While watching the latest edition of the always entertaining Zero Punctuation reviews, I noticed them encouraging people to vote for them in the Webby Awards. I'm quite happy to support the sites a like when all it costs me is a few minutes of my time, so followed the link and prepared to cast my vote. What I didn't count on was having to wade through literally hundreds of nominees to find the one that I wanted to vote for. With scores of different categories and five nominees in each one, it looks like a Webby is about as difficult to win as the prize in a Cracker Jack.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Television in the Wild Wild Far East

It's fun to watch clips of Japanese television, as they tend to be either delightfully inventive or mind-bendingly weird. Jess recently pointed me in the direction of this lovely example of the first variety:

I love this as the premise for a game show, and they keep it interesting by having misleading openings that force the contestants to think beyond the body arrangement suggested by the shape. Plus, it never hurts to include some uncomplicated physical comedy.

That video reminded me of another one that I came across several weeks ago.

I'm still at a loss for words.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

What goes up must come down, but it's rarely this much fun.

My anti-television stance has been softening recently under the influence of cool things being produced by different shows. One of the things that I love is that they can do dangerous and/or expensive things and then I get to enjoy watching the results.

In the same vein as my earlier post on the Mythbusters cutting down a tree with a machine gun, I came across this brilliant clip not long ago. It's from the program Top Gear, and they're using old cars in place of clay pigeons, with increasingly heavy weaponry being employed against the flying automobiles.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hello television. We meet again.

It's going to be very tough waiting until Friday.

Frak you Ben.