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November 3, 2005

The Black Rabbit Serves

Got involved with "Watership Down" once more after all these years. I had the book read to me by Andrew Sachs recently and that brought me to watch the movie on DVD again. I remember that it impressed me very deeply when it came out and I was quite young, sort of the first movie that really got to me, especially the vision/myth sequences with the black rabbit, done by the shamefully uncredited John Hubley. I still think the film is a remarkable achievement, especially the landscape sequences and the music. Adams' stubborn English civil-servant-style love of family and the "fellows" and a walk in the woods and the simple things in life seems to shine through. Kind of narrow, but nice in its narrowness. The movie also conveys some of the fun Adams has with nature terms, revelling in words like "gravelspit" and "cowslip" and "ragwort". Plus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the original version was dubbed by several major actors I know from Shakespeare dramatizations on tape or video. Richard Briers as Fiver and Michael Hordern booming quite convincingly as the voice of God sound especially good to these ears. Ralph Richardson manages to be staggering in his two-minute-cameo as the Chief Rabbit, an obvious self-parody. Every time I see or hear him it becomes clearer to me that Richardson was magnificent. I'm generally ambivalent about him and Gielgud, because they're so IMPORTANT and bloody KNIGHTED and they bear themselves like they've got WORLD CULTURAL HERITAGE tattooed under their armpits, but then again it's undeniable that they can eat all them modern, slick, smug, empty-headed one-note wonders like Kenneth Branagh for breakfast without a strain. There's nobody who can speak like SIR Ralph and SIR John anymore, it's a part of culture that's just gone. Pity. Anyway. Something else that struck me about "Watership Down" is this: A plot that takes about 600 pages in the book is compressed into a series of climaxes in the movie; it works, but feels somewhat breathless and cramped today. However, when I saw it as a kid it seemed to have all the epic breadth you could wish for. Apparently you just fill a lot in intuitively at that age. Consequently, if something strikes me as hasty and flattened out nowadays, that might just reflect the fact that I've gotten slower in tuning into something, more picky and arrogant. That makes me kind of uncomfortable with judging works of art. I'll get over it, though, I guess.

Diggers, Rise!

Recently, I saw that movie "Rize" about the new street dance style from L. A. called "krumping" I've somehow gotten interested in. The phenomenon in itself is worth investigating, but the film is marred by its stupid director who apparently used to direct commercials and music videos before. So we get all these stupidly manipulative emotional strategies we know and loathe, in the way the music is used, the way the interviews are conducted (cluelessly, manipulatively and redundantly), the way the movie never asks a lot of relevant questions, and especially in the way the camera behaves; e. g. presenting the dancing bodies mostly from below in a glossy way that seems to strive for sexiness. Almost every other decision the director made is dumb, too, but the absolute cryptoracist nadir is that some dance scenes are intercut with movie snippets of an African tribe dancing filmed by the absolutely disgusting Mrs. Riefenstahl. Yo' director man's apparently suggesting that it's somehow in their genes when black kids from L. A. paint their faces, dress up in weird things and dance around in an aggressive way, because, lookahere, African tribe members are also painting their faces, dressing up in weird things and dancing around in an aggressive way. That juxtaposition makes it rather hard to keep the lunch down, especially since it's so obvious that the parallel is tenuous, to say the least. E. g. the anonymity and vague threat of the krumpers' clown masks have a lot more to do with all-white J. W. Gacy and Stephen King's "It" than with any Yoruba rituals. The clown dance comes across not as a participation in any archetypal harvest ritual, but a sort of staged fight against an enormous pressure weighing the dancers down. It looks admirably spastic and quite aggressive, but the people involved seem to be surprisingly gentle all the same; the style apparently was devised by some ex-con part-time clown as an alternative to gang warfare. What fascinates me is that there's something of the strife for the nonhuman about it; waves of pure disembodied aggression seem to be passing through these people. If "krumping" is done well, it looks like people channeling fighting dinosaurs. And that may be the reason why it works beyond the usual aesthetic confines of pop: some dancers are beautiful, some are notably ugly. But the dance somehow makes the latter ones a wonder to behold too, especially some enormous only-in-America rotundities who wobble when the vibrations pass through them. I'd like to be able to do something similar, heck, I'd like to be able to dance anyway, but I'd even more like to be able to krump. Hope this craze catches hold in Europe, too. Somehow, I think it will.

Where Despair Ends And Tactics Begin

Two days ago, I went to see Mark Stewart & Maffia. I waited more or less 15 years for this concert and wasn't disappointed, it turned out to be a thing of beauty. Quite a wonder how music that relentlessly oozes crushing despair can be so uplifting. Wimbish's bass is still wicked and Sherwood an absolute genius at the mixer. Stewart seemed a bit lame at first, as he started off with a rather tired version of "Liberty City", but then he warmed up and was magnificent. When they peaked, I had a rare experience of immersion, the impression of not hearing but being the music for a few seconds. No feeling of a body that isn't part of the sound, no sense of gravity weighing me down. It's probably a meaningless question, but is this what all the techno kids feel during their supposed love parade ecstasies? I kept wondering afterwards. Sadly, the band had the bothersome tendency to deliver medleys instead of songs: over LeBlanc's machine-style drumming, the guitarists laid some indistinct riff to which Stewart was reciting snippets from several songs that bled into each other. I know that this is an On-U custom, but it's a bad idea anyway, because the songs have no time to gather momentum. It was especially sad when Stewart gave four lines from his historic "Jerusalem" version and then stopped and did something else. Any amount of lines from that song is a darn treat, but if they'd played the whole track, I might have disappeared into the P. A. and never come back And wouldn't that have been interesting?