Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I cry candy

For months now I've had family and friends tell me how much they enjoyed Inside Out and telling me that I should see it. I finally got the opportunity to in a hotel room at three in the morning. Everyone else who was watching drifted off to sleep but I had to see how it ended, and basically it ended with me trying not to cry loud enough to wake up everyone else in the room.

The movie gets that the inside of a person's head is messy. None of the systems communicate well, one emotion tries to dominate and fails, memories fade and are lost, things that you cared about go missing. The human mind is a confusing place that wants to think of itself as clean and simple and ordered but can't pull it off.

Of course Sadness was my favorite character. I get sadness. I get how important it is to be sad sometimes but I like the message that balance is important. You can't be happy all the time, obviously, but being sad (or disgusted, angry, or afraid) all the time is no better. And I like that the movie's main message is to ask for help. If you're losing your emotions, if you don't feel the things you used to, if you're scared and angry and can't feel joy there is a problem and it's completely acceptable to tell other people what you're feeling.

Good job Disney and Pixar, you've made another brilliant movie.

     - Alli

Friday, September 18, 2015

The shark and the whale going for a ride

On a rainy winter evening in the winter of 2004 I was supposed to see Hunter S. Thompson. I was a college journalist having a great time yelling about politics and writing music reviews and my editor and I were going to line up and wait for a glimpse of the gonzo glory that so fascinated and repelled us. But it didn't happen. Thompson was ill and didn't end up finishing the signing event. A few months later he was dead.

I didn't want to read Fear and Loathing after that. I didn't want to see the movie. I didn't want to know any more for a long time, because what I knew was that Thompson's life had burnt him and he'd shared that burning with his readers.

But it's been eleven years now and I was feeling a little less raw so I just bought the fucking thing and dedicated a couple of hours to getting it in my system.

On the one hand I'm still raw. Thompson was a goddamned gift and I'm sad that he's gone. On the other hand reading what he wrote is the best way to appreciate that gift because his writing is full of hilarity and wonder and confusion and so much life that it makes your eyes ache as they move over the pages.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a great way to kill an afternoon feeling crazy and vibrant. It's brimming with rancid delight that seeps into you and jerks a grin onto your face. It's sparse while still being overwhelming, and funny on every single page.

I don't know how to recommend this book, or who should read it, or how to even approach explaining it. I'll just say that it felt good reading it.

     - Alli

Thompson, Hunter S.. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the
     American Dream
. Vintage Books. New York: New York. 1998. (1971)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Timing is a bitch

Do you ever feel really different from one reading to the next? Sometimes I am bored as fuck reading a book in November but that same book will hit me really hard six months later. Maybe it had something to do with the edition instead of the timing, but on my most recent reading of The Crow I basically cried through the entire book.

Maybe I was just in a rough mood, I don't know, but it hit me hard this time around. If you're not familiar with The Crow beyond knowing it's the gothy movie that killed Brandon Lee let me start by saying that it's a bit more involved than pop culture makes it out to be.

It's a beautifully illustrated, violent, aggressive, truly depressed story about a murdered man coming to avenge the death and gang rape of his fiancee. The relationship between Shelly and Eric is shown in several stages, all of which suggest that they were honestly and deeply in love, and the images of this deep, sweet relationship are carefully intercut with images of a morphine addict raping Shelly's corpse and Eric literally slashing himself to pieces because he allowed her to be harmed (and horrible things ad nauseam).

Anyway, the book isn't perfect. Shelly is fairly dehumanized and I will never not have a problem with the fact that she is almost unrecognizable from panel to panel. There are just tons of allusions and snippets of poetry tossed in to the point that Eric is essentially incomprehensible as the Crow. T-Bird's gang makes no sense, the mythology of the whole story is confusing, the police department is oddly structured - really there aren't many points on which The Crow is coherent, but that doesn't do a damn thing to make the book less impacting.

It's raw, is what all these criticisms come down to. The Crow is a bundle of pain that was turned into a book that you can hold in your hands. J. O'Barr shared his suffering with us in one of the best examples I've ever seen of translating emotion into art. And for that it's fantastic.

     - Alli

O'Barr, J. The Crow. Kitchen Sink Press. Northampton: Massachusetts. 1994. (1981).

Say what you mean.

I'm not a total Pollyanna. I want you to know that. I'm not really even a little bit of a Pollyanna - I recently had someone tell me I'm one of the most negative people he knows, which I've chosen to take as an extremely backhanded compliment because fuck that dude, but for all of that I really wanted Angle of Repose to have something of a happy ending.

I mean, I know the chances of that happening with a Pulitzer Prize winning novel are pretty damned low but it's not impossible. Look at Maus - that book is depressing as fuck but still manages to be hopeful. Stegner doesn't even give us hope, he gives us hope for hope, which feels a little bit like getting cheated after investing as much into the characters as he does.

That's kind of the reason that the novel is amazing - I honestly give a shit about pretty much everyone who Stegner introduces us to. I feel sympathy for them, I want them to have good lives and happiness and easy summer mornings and instead Stegner just keeps kicking his audience in the balls by denying his characters the easy life that would cheapen their stories.

It was easy to sink into this story, easy to read through Lyman Ward's frustration and want to cuddle and protect him the way he wanted to cuddle and protect the people whose lives he was exploring. It's hard to take a lot of the novel seriously, though. Shelly Rasmussen, the braless hippie who so offends Lyman's delicate sensibilities, is probably the rightest character in the story. Everyone else gets torn to pieces by their hangups, Shelly is the only one questioning if accepting those hangups is wise. Shelly gets shit on a lot by Lyman but I think Stegner likes her better than his grouchy narrator lets on - Stenger isn't as much a dinosaur as Lyman, and Lyman isn't as much a gargoyle as he pretends. The modern characters in this historical novel are as fraught with pretending as their predecessors and that seems to be the major message here - it's better to be honest than to be miserable.

Stegner, Wallace. Angle of Repose. Penguin Publishing. New York: New York. 1992. (1971).