Monday, February 28, 2011

Die, Chotomies!

There are all sorts of dichotomies in ""Eat or die" is only an unpleasant threat." There is candy and there is destruction. There is love but also confusion. Prison and Safeway. Eating or dying. What's the difference or significance of apples vs. coconuts. Do you know? Lettuce vs. spinach. Disapproval vs. approbation. The flesh of hands but being oversized and machine-like. "I didn't like being in prison but I lifted weights a lot." What do the dichotomies mean? What does it mean that the last sentence is "I don't know what I mean"?

Baby Quiz

Baby Quiz

1. Name another work of Ophelia's having anything at all to do with babies.

2. Is the lung gray or black?

3. Is the lung a baby or vice-versa?

4. Is the baby a stomach?

5. Why was the baby bleeding?

6. Who is Simon?

True or False:

Babies come from stomachs.

Babies are like meat.

"I Will Video Myself Watching Myself Write This Poem" is a funny poem

"I Will Video Myself Watching Myself Write This Poem" is a funny poem.

"I did not shop on Black Friday" is funny because you're supposed to. "Because little boys would trample me" is funny because they are little boys but they are trampling. "For VCRs at Best Buy" is funny because what year was this written. The XX has a funny song called "VCR" which is funny because they were born after the VCR was extinct. I don't know when Ofelia was born. "I would hamstring these boys" is funny because I like ham. I had a ham sandwich for lunch. Also violence against children is funny. "Then tear their throats out and scream" see? "Until they became zombies" used to be funny but is not as funny as it used to be. "And lurched toward me" is funny because the word "lurch" is funny. It is a portmanteau of lean, burp and crouch. "Through the strip-mall shopping center" might not be funny. If it is funny, it has something to do with "strip-mall." That could be funny. "I would scream and run very fast" is not funny. "And trip over somebody's parents" is very funny. "And the zombies would slowly feast on my blood" is funny even if zombies aren't as funny anymore. It's still funny that they do everything slowly, even feast. "I knew all this would happen" is almost funny. "So I went to Denny's with my boyfriend instead" is funny because Denny's is funny. "For pancakes and coffee" is hysterical. "And we saw Tom Cruise and his baby" is uncomfortably funny. "And I stole his baby I told the baby" is increasingly discomfortably funny. Not funnier, but less comfortable. ""You are important you are a terrorist" is not funny because it is the truth. "Because one baby is like any other baby" is not funny as it was the first time I'd read it in something else by Ofelia. "And baby terrorists are more effective" is not funny again, less funny because we already know that. "Than non-baby terrorists" is actually kind of funny. "But the baby cried for a while" is funny because I hate babies. "So we left it in a bed of lettuce at Safeway" is really really really funny. "And Tom Cruise became a zombie" is not funny because it is true. "And feasted on our blood" is moderately funny. "But I filmed him and black-mailed him" is building up to being funny. "And now I'm on cable television" is the funniest.

Whales Comma Elephants

Reynard Seifert (I think) said about the story, "The Whales and Elephants Were Happier When," that "the style's pleasant and it leaves so much room open yet it gives me the images I need to feel like I'm unwrapping a candy bar..." in his blog Music for Books.
It made me sad a little bit thinking about the pieces of Stanley and the parents being paid to sit in offices. And how quietly it moves forward and up ladders.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Critical Analysis of a Story

I went to quizzo on Sunday night. There were eight people on my team so they deducted two points from us. We lost by two points.

When I came home it was only midnight-something so I read a story by Ofelia called "Request" or something.

The first word of the story was "Wal-Mart?"

When I was a teenager I worked at Wal-Mart. It wasn't my first job. I worked at a cash register where they kept track of how fast you rang people up. I found that if I signed off and on and off and on, my score would go up. Like a video game.

They moved me out into the parking lot where there was a bunch of overstock merchandise nobody wanted. I didn't do anything for hours at a time.

There is a girl named Madison in the story and I have a sister named Madison. Madison has brown hair and brown eyes. In the story or in my family?

There are white tips of Converses and Converses do have white tips. Some people write words on the white tips. Other people write other things which are not words. I never wrote either words or not words on my Converses because the tips of mine were black.

The "I" character of a story is not necessarily or usually the author. "I explain this to Madison," the "I" character says or is written by Ofelia Hunt. Did she?

There is a man in a blue vest in the story, which is factually accurate for someone working at Wal-Mart. I owned a blue vest, or one was given to me. I also had a name tag that was clipped to the vest. It had my name typed on it in capital letters. When Ofelia writes, "'My name’s George.' George points to the name tag on his blue vest," she knows it is true. The name on the tag was "GEORGE," even though the story doesn't say that.

I had a friend in high school who never went into a Wal-Mart without stealing a tie. He had a lot of ties.

Madison asked if Wal-Mart has pornography. It doesn't. Or, not the one I worked at. Later, when I worked at Starbucks, some female employees got in trouble for posing for Playboy in their uniforms.

Things start getting weird, in case you didn't think there had been anything weird about the story so far. They talk about closet people who might get stabbed with sticks. The closet people are a theme. They recur.

The first time I read this story, something reminded me of a story by Lindsay Hunter but I can't remember what it was or what story. No, I just remembered. It was the thing about the penis. I think the story was called "Peggy's Brother," but I could be wrong.

Some other things happen, but I don't feel like it's the happening that is important. I stopped working at Wal-Mart. I stopped working at Starbucks. I started writing stories. But my stories were never like this story. In this story, like Ofelia's other stories, every word is, if not perfect, perfectly placed.

In her blog, she writes: "As I write a story, I must constantly edit the story. To write anything new, I have to read through everything I've written before, make little changes, and finally add a paragraph or two before I quit. This is taking for-fucking-ever."

I like it when George talks about whether or not the dirt pile is combustible. I wonder if it was. I used to try to figure out which of my household liquids were flammable. Packing peanuts are. They melt and shrivel.

Today I Read 5

I am reading these poems right now as I am writing this, writing and reading at the same time. With my right eye I read about spilt milk and with the left eye I see a spelling mistake I made. I think that these five poems are somehow related to each other, to me. Like maybe a third cousin. "Devour," "Torn," and "Explode" are words from the titles of the poems that support my thesis. "Message," and "Little" are words that might not support my thesis, but certainly don't contradict it. Ofelia's breasts are caterpillars, she says, and she says that her lungs are tiny like little cyborgs, and she says she says that her bones are full of milk and that her quadriceps are torn and her fingers are spare. And I am writing that she wrote that.

4 poems

I like Ofelia's stories better than her poems. Why? I don't know. Maybe I just don't get poetry. That's ridiculous. Well, what then? Surely it has nothing to do with the poems. You're here to laud her work, not disparage it. Oh, no. No no no no no. Definitely not disparage. It's me. It's my fault. I bear the blame of not getting her poems. Every nuance and insinuation.

here is a haiku:
Ofelia Hunt's
Four poems on two websites
Will destroy you

The poems are found in Apocryphal Text (1&2) and Dusie (3&4).

1. "When I'm alone I listen to the radio because there're human-beings there and I/ can feel them radiating around me." This makes me sad and reminds me of some of her other stories in which characters listen to the radio. The radio is sad especially talk radio or stations on the right side of the dial that have too much DJ shout-outs or too many commercials that talk so fast you don't want to know what they are saying but you wish that they intended you to hear it without getting some kind of awful headache. But I guess it is the sound of voices, of other larynxes and esophagi making noises in the cold dark night of your sad and isolated existence that make you want to turn the radio on even if it is only for that, even if it is especially for that.

2. "I'd only destroy" See what I'm taking about when I call her work candy nihilism? Candy that tastes like fried chicken.

3. The comfort of everything contained in self-accomodating that-which-goes-with-you in the face of the end of everything that is comfortable.

4. I think it has something to do with her bikini tan line and a rage that will never go out.

Ofelia Hunt

I discovered Ofelia a few months ago perusing the backwaters of online literary zinedom. I found her in a website called Bear Parade.

She has a collection of stories there called My Eventual Bloodless Coup which is exactly like J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories in the fact that there are nine of them.

I've dubbed Ofelia's writing "candy nihilism" because, although she is sweet, she is also destructive. She tends to write about unhappy relationships and hurting people. But in a nice way.  "I don't think that the little children are thinking about anything because all little children are selfish nihilists because they just want to have fun all the time and ignore the world and drink soda and eat candy, which is why the world is meaningless and boring and stupid." ("I Want the Glass Panel Tinted")

Here are some notes I took while reading My Eventual Bloodless Coup.

"Don't Slide the Couches" - mother's peg leg. recants and negations.

"I Want the Glass Panel Tinted" - "I don't necessarily want to remove these pieces of myself." things about nihilism = soda + candy.

"The Refrigerator Divides Also" - breathing/ not breathing/ air molecules in a refrigerator. "Nobody tells me what to do."

"I Am Happy Today, I Think" - more things about communism. eating peanut butter. "I stepped into a puddle." more Pepsi product placement. the reduction of consumerism to an equivalent transaction of products for currency. is Safeway a pun/metaphor?

"It Is Flat There and You Will Be Happier" - more things about happiness: the desire for lack of desire, flatness, swimming penguins, going to the bathroom, cleanliness, the radio, commercials for wine, windows, waving, ice cream.

"Quietly" - kissing after cutting off cat heads. she writes the word "tongue" as if she had one. kittens as a symbol of something.

"Penguins Swim Around" - more things about zoos, penguins, hondas, npr, i think there is something about being normal in the face of adversity.

"One Baby is Like Any Other Baby" - more things about boyfriends. leather = animal skin. more rain. this time commercials on the radio are sad. "sporadic clumps." the name Christopher Walken ten times. sex in a movie theater? the f word. being kidnapped again but not being a kid. is a burlap bag the same thing as a canvas sack?

"The Room is Full of Me" - "Chris says 'I don't understand.'" why doesn't she ever like the person? lurid brow. i think about the fact that she is sitting on the toilet too much. i wonder if the phrase "I should be disqualified as a human being" is inspired by No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai? "I feel alternately like an alien and like a robot."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Mighty Aphrodite

Woody Allen and Helena Bonham Carter are married and decide to adopt a child. But then a few years pass and Woody decides to track the mother down. She turns out to be Mira Sorvino and a hooker/ porn star. So Woody tries to help turn her life around and maybe sleep with her.

I think what I don't like about the humor of this movie is that it is frivolous. There might not be anything wrong with frivolity. It may even be vital. But I just don't find myself being pulled along into the conga line. For example, a lot of the humor comes from the Greek chorus. But there's just something about taking a punch line and having it delivered by twenty people in unison that grates my nerves. And the winking nature of the anachronisms. Although I did like it when Woody asked one of the chorus members for a pencil when he was taking a phone message.

Mira won an Oscar for this role. Why, because she had that goofy voice and played a ditz? Sorry, I'm not buying it.

Don't Drink the Water

During the Cold War, an American family is caught in an embassy in Russia. I don't think the plot really matters, as this movie is more like a Marx Brothers' in terms of zany hijinks.

I didn't like this movie the first time I saw it, but it isn't entirely horrible. There were some funny parts. It's light and frivolous (which I will come back to later).

I think that this is a period for Woody Allen where he is really trying to stay away from the material that had been inspired by his relationship with Mia Farrow. He isn't doing the urban marital relationships so much. But, I can't help but think he's thrown the baby out with the common-law wife.

He has two sources of meat, in terms of content: love and death. Those are the two things that really fill up the body of Woody Allen's work. And when he doesn't want to weigh down the plot with the contemplation of either, it becomes airy and inconsequential. Which is what Don't Drink the Water feels like to me.

Bullets Over Broadway

In the 1920's, John Cusack is a playwright who can't get his plays produced because he is too tepid and cerebral until a mobster offers to bankroll the play if his girlfriend is cast. Cusack decides that nothing is perfect in life and this is his chance to finally do something meaningful.

And so he begins with a cast that includes the mobster's floozy, a cooky Tracey Ullman, an over-eater and a drama-queen has-been ala Sunset Boulevard. Dianne Wiest is perfect as the latter leading lady.

But as the rehearsals of the play progress, problems arise and the floozy's bodyguard offers some suggestions. He becomes more and more involved until John Cusack's role of writer has been usurped completely.

There is something about Woody Allen's period pieces that I never really totally buy. They fail to immerse me, maybe because somewhere in the back of my mind the voice of Woody Allen is making snide remarks.

But what I find interesting about this movie is its reversal of one of Allen's main tenets. That art perfects life. Because in the end, John Cusack admits that he's not an artist, and it is this fact that wins back his cuckolding girlfriend. She was in love with the man, not the artist.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Manhattan Murder Mystery

This may be sticking a dagger into the short ribs of all my future Woody Allen reviews, but Manhattan Murder Mystery may very well be his last perfect film.

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton (Diane Keaton!) play a middle-aged couple who meet their older neighbors and begin to worry that they are becoming boring. So when the neighbor's wife ends up dead, Diane Keaton obsesses over the idea that it is murder. "I don't need a murder to enliven my life," Woody says. Because he doesn't want to go along, Keaton confides in the recently single Alan Alda who does nothing but encourage her.

What starts as a crazy idea becomes more and more serious until a mystery actually does unravel.

I love this movie because it is perfectly paced, it's really funny and it isn't overwrought. It still has all of the archetypal Woody Allen tropes, but it plays them at their best. And at the end it pays homage to Orson Welles' The Lady from Shanghai while that movie is playing. Five stars.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Husbands and Wives

There are three camera styles that repeat themselves over the course of the film. The first is a third-party, narrative style. I don't know the technical term for it, but it's when the camera acts like an extra person watching the action. It is unsteady and moves around a lot, like a real person. The second style is a steady, documentarian shot and has characters speaking directly into the lens, usually responding to off-camera questions. And the third style is mostly traditional with sort of Godardian jump cuts. And then it starts over with the first style. I'm sure a film student could analyze how these styles support the leitmotif of the film, the fickle nature of humans to stick to one thing, namely spouses. But I just boiled it down to a sentence, so you can take my word for it.

So, yes, Husbands and Wives is about not only husbands but also wives who come to that point in a relationship when the romance becomes stale and they want to pursue their own pleasure.

The best lines come from Juliette Lewis, the twenty-year-old student Woody Allen's character falls for. She has been in a string of relationships with older men and she postulates that she is just a "symbol of lost youth or unfulfilled dreams." I've often tried to suggest that the infatuation with younger women wasn't purely sexual. But it is a little hard to believe when it is not isolated to Allen's films.
"Are our choices really between chronic dissatisfaction and suburban drudgery?" she asks him later.
"No, but that's how I'm deliberately distorting it to show how hard it is to be married."

Ok, Woody, we get it. So how about saying something else? As a film, I was kind of bored with it. There were some ok moments in the middle, but otherwise, not so much.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Shadows and Fog

Interviewers lacking in mental accuity like to ask of creative types: "Where do your ideas come from?" As if there is some well somewhere at a secret location that they could be convinced to reveal. Where does Woody Allen get his ideas? Well, in the case of Shadows and Fog, I know the answer. It's based on a play he wrote in the 70's called "Death." This is probably why it feels different from other films of this era. It harkens back to his old style of comedy. He takes the typical Woody Allen character and plops him down in the middle of a German Expressionist film. I'm not sure if I read this somewhere or if it's my own thought that this movie is an homage to Fritz Lang. And yet, despite his using older material and referencing older directors, Woody still continues the theme he started in Alice. "He's frightened of his freedom," John Cusack says.

We're right in the middle of Woody Allen's career and at the tail end of his relationship with Mia Farrow. So maybe it's natural that he's thinking about the future and the things he might want to accomplish without the baggage of a family. And maybe he is frightened, which makes him lean against old props. But, you know, I think Shadows and Fog is one of his better lesser-know films. I really would recommend it.


Alice is the wife of a rich man. She wears red a lot, but otherwise is mostly repressed. Like the mistress in Crimes and Misdemeanors, she has sacrificed her ambitions and dreams for a man to become a mother and husband.

There is a certain aspect of magical realism to the movie including such things as ghosts, invisibility, flying, dreams, and love potions.

This is one of the few Woody Allen movies that ends happily for someone single. Usually happiness for Woody means getting the girl. More often he prefers to explore the tragedy of love gone wrong. But here the notion that "freedom is a frightening feeling" does not deter the titular Alice from pursuing that goal once her other options have been stripped from her. And she seems one of the most genuinely happy of Woody's character by the end of the film.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New York Stories

Oedipus Wrecks is Woody Allen's entry in the New York Stories collection also featuring Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. At thirty-five minutes, it's Allen's only short film and it manages to encapsulate everything that he represents.

It's the story of a New York lawyer who is plagued by his overbearing mother. He confesses to his therapist that he wishes she would just disappear. So, when he takes her to meet his fiancee (Mia Farrow) at a magic show and she's put into a Chinese box, she does.

A week later she comes back, but now she's an apparition in the sky. Everyone in New York gets to have the privilege of her views and opinions, mostly on her son and his life choices. It's a nightmare. He wants to kill himself. Instead, he sees this quack occultist woman who tries through her various means to figure out what is going on and reverse it. Woody's fiancee leaves him and he falls for the occultist. It is only then that the mother approves, returning to earth and status quo.

I think Woody Allen should work in the short form more often because he has really crystallized his message without any of the usual distractions. On the other hand, it may be too safe. He doesn't take the risks that push him into new territory.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Crimes and Misdemeanors

This movie had a convoluted plot structure. I tried graphing the characters out, but it didn't really help. (see fig. a)

Well, basically a man wants to murder his mistress because she wants him to leave his wife. He doesn't so much want to as sees no way out.

I like the fact that he's an opthamologist and seeks advice from a rabbi who's going blind.

The rabbi is the brother of Woody Allen's wife. Woody and his wife (I forget their characters' names) have been platonically married for a year. He meets a producer who is working with his wife's other brother, Alan Alda, an obnoxious but successful television something-or-other. That's Mia Farrow.

So Mia and Woody seem to genuinely hit it off. But then Mia goes away for a while on business and Woody splits up with his wife. But when Mia comes back she's engaged to Alda.

There are maybe four or five moments where there is really melodramatic dialogue that segue into film footage as watched by Woody and someone else (his neice or Mia or someone). The movies seem to mimic the dialogue that directly preceded it. And in one ocassion, Woody says: "This only happens in the movies," as if acknowledging the melodrama he's pitching at us.

On some level, we are expected to accept this as reality. At the end there's a big wrapping up where someone says that life isn't structured to include human happiness and maybe our only hope is in the future. So that these mistakes, the crimes and misdemeanors we have been witness to, are indicative of current morals. I'm not even going to bother trying to explain who that someone is.

But on the other hand, it's a movie, and Woody never wants us to forget that.

I find this film to be a disturbing turn for Woody. He'll return to this theme of killing off your problems, and it is a dark and foreboding undercurrent.

Obviously, Woody isn't advocating the behavior he depicts. At the end of the movie he says that if he were making the movie, he would have the guy confess because then it would be tragic.

(fig. a)