Hardcore for Nerds

"Why sneer at the intellectuals?"*
punk music, left politics, and cultural history - previously found here.
contact: gabbaweeks[at]gmail.com (sorry, no promos/submissions, thanks) or ask
Dublin/Galway, Ireland. 26, history graduate & human rights student
HFN | Best New Punk | HFN 2012 2011 2010 2009 | HRO 2k9 | Hoover Genealogy Project | @HC4N
*from the title of a review of Arthur Koestler's Arrival and Departure by Michael Foot, Evening Standard, Nov. 26, 1943.
Sep 23
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imagefuturist said: Hi. great quote. have you seen Pat Collins documentary about Tim Robinson? Its a fine film. vimeo.com/3562844…if you can find it, check it out.

Cool, thanks, I’ll keep an eye out for it. I really enjoyed his other film Silence, and this seems like it covers similar themes as well. In fact I wonder if this quote might not actually have been from Tim Robinson?

interstate808 said: That book is right at the top of my list right now, dying to read his whole trilogy of Connemara books.

I saw the trilogy all in one volume in Hodges Figgis a while ago (before I knew I was coming to Galway). To be honest I’m not sure I really like his writing style - it seems rather verbose, but that may just be because I’m tired and reading a lot of other heavy stuff - so I chiefly bought it for the map and the ‘gazetteer’ with all the info on place-names and geography. That said, I am generally quite up for philosophical musings on space and time.

tim robinson galway irish books film
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Jun 30
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sixty heads ready to burst open like futile pomegranates under a hail of shrapnel

Victor Serge, Conquered City (1975)

1. I saw Scanners for the first time last night. The exploding-head scene was familiar from a myriad of clip shows, but the finale was both new to me and genuinely impressive.

2. I’m about halfway through reading this other Serge novel, and its also peppered with these transcendent images which simultaneously pull you out of what you’re reading and push you further into the reality of what he’s talking about (in this case, the Russian Civil War).

victor serge books film
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Apr 05
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I often notice when it’s very still here, there’s a sort of velvety texture to the stillness, and it’s made up of subliminal sounds coming in from great distances | the waves are never absolutely still, there’s waves breaking at different times on all these little coasts… the sound is reaching us here with various delays and attenuations… and producing a sort of generalised hushing sound. And I was thinking this is almost like as if you were listening to the sound of the past… not really of history, which has its definite sort of structures to it, but all the bits of the past that don’t get into history, all the voices that are forgotten, never been heard, never expressed themselves… all telling their own story, and these stories in a way all cancelling each other out, to a sort of voiceless confusion

unnamed speaker, Silence

(at least I didn’t recognise the voice, which was off-camera, and it didn’t sound like any of the other people who did appear in the film - which may sound strange but the director is on record as saying there are little tricks like that to, if not confuse viewers, then make them think about what they’re seeing and hearing)

This - endless, echoing sound - is a really powerful romantic idea: it’s in the opening of Greg Milner’s Perfecting Sound Forever (in the sound of the Big Bang echoing around the universe), it’s in the story of the Listening Monks in Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music (also an excellent broad satire of rock’n’roll) and also obliquely, as I recently rediscovered, in Tolkien’s creation myth for the world of Middle Earth (where the Music of the Ainur becomes the template for the entirety of history). I think, though, that the simultaneous existence and negation of voices in it is an even more powerful addition.

sound Perfecting Sound Forever tolkien silence irish film
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Silence (2012)

This is a really good film. I like the arc it has between contemplation and conversation, in that it almost seems like a different movie by the end. There’s a good interview with the director here and also a special audio version (‘remix’, if you will) of the film played here.

irish film
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Apr 02
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How Irish scenery looks like in a film, and how it might look like when you’re there…

Top, from Silence (2012) and below, a photograph I took last October. I only saw the film last night - obviously the swirled rock folds of Mullaghmore in Co. Clare are quite irresistible visually. In the film the time of year is stated as May, which is the time to see the Burren, and when one is most likely - though not assured - of having clement weather. It looked slightly unreal to me in the film, as my memory of it didn’t include that much greenness - instead the browns and reds of wet and windswept hills.

It’s amazing how much difference the seasons make, assuming either picture to be a ‘true’ representation of colour (mine least of all, although it fits with my memory). I wish I’d been able to make more of the glistening wet rock on the far hillside, however, but as the raindrops on the lens indicate it wasn’t really the best spot for leisurely photography, or to wait for changing light. 

(In the film, an excellent ‘docudrama’ about a sound recordist searching for places in Ireland free from man-made noise, the only interruption shown is a solitary car passing on a distant road. Though if you descend the hill and come back by its western side, you pass by the Father Ted house on the far side of the valley, the site of some raucous goings-on)

irish film photography silence
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Apr 01
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Die Hard 1916

this is pretty good - by @DangerFarm, via Not The RTÉ Guide

irish comedy film history
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Mar 04
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Vanishing Point (1971)
But which direction do we take, maaan? #existentialism

Vanishing Point (1971)

But which direction do we take, maaan? #existentialism

(Source: unaempanadaporfavor)

film 70s
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Vanishing Point (1971) trailer 

Caught this on Film4 a couple of nights ago, and loved it. The trailer predictably makes it out as a more action-packed movie than it really is (according to Wiki, it didn’t do very well on its initial US release, but received a lot of acclaim in Europe, and was brought back as a double feature with The French Connection). It’s still a ‘carsploitation’ film, as I’ve seen it memorably tagged, but most of the crashes are there in the trailer: the rest of the film is considerably moodier. And it has a great soundtrack (more on which perhaps later).

What caught my attention was the opening scene, which reminded me very strongly of  the characteristic openings of Breaking Bad episodes. In Vanishing Point, the film begins where it ends - sort of - with two earthmovers rolling along the ground to form a roadblock in a Western town (later revealed to be Cisco, Utah). The camera is a low-angle shot, and initially there is no sound other than the rumbling machinery and caterpillar tracks, while silent townspeople stand around watching intently yet dispassionately. Operating in that same kind of desert or semi-desert landscape of Breaking Bad, the film seems equally content to observe people at its unhurried pace: for a movie that appears to be all about speed, it’s also about distance, and thus time. 

It’s also “notable for its scenic film locations across the American Southwest and its social commentary on the post-Woodstock mood in the United States”, although it’s less ‘social commentary’ than conveying a mood somewhere between liberation, apathy and despair. Rather like a less articulate Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (less articulate in that the ‘last American hero’ is moody and mostly mute, although Cleavon Little’s ‘Supersoul’ DJ offers a verbal soundtrack) or the road happenings of Easy Rider, before it all comes crashing down. There’s a strong thread of existentialism (as pretty much every ‘cult movie’ blurb of it states), but hey, that was the time, you know?

The greater tragedy is probably that there was a terrible-sounding TV remake in 1997 starring Viggo Mortensen. It replaced “the lead character’s ambivalent image with a simpler and more palatable, wholesome lead character and motivations, in particular eliminating all references to drug use, rebellion or sexuality, all of which were hallmarks of the 1971 film”, and worse, gave him “a more clear and socially accepted background and reason to drive fast”. (In the remake, he’s driving to his pregnant wife. Which in a way is my problem with Breaking Bad, that its main protagonist’s motivation is a deeply conservative one of “providing for his family”, although to be fair the structure of the show is set up so that it displays the unintended consequences of economic gain. We can’t all be existentialist heroes.) 

film 70s vanishing point breaking bad
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Feb 22
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I meant to post this after I talked about The FountainThe whole soundtrack is very listenable on its own, but this is the definite standout piece.

Been listening to all my Grails records again lately, hope to do a post on that soon.

(Source: Spotify)

film the fountain
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Feb 18
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"What’s a mandala?"
"They’re the Buddhist designs that are always circles filled with things, the circle representing the void and the things illusion, see. You sometimes see mandalas painted over a Bodhisattva’s head and can tell his history from studying it."
Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

So I finally got round to seeing Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, and I really liked it. It was probably being shown on Film4 because Cloud Atlas is being released in cinemas here this week, with similar time-jumping plot style and opportunities for lavish imagery. I’ve read the David Mitchell book and, although less intricately woven, overall I think it’s more complicated (or at least complex) than the plot of The Fountain - if you understand it, that is. Roger Ebert has laid it out pretty straightforwardly:

"Is the film a success? Not for most people, no. I imagine they don’t realize, for one thing, that it all takes place in the present and there is only one “real” Hugh Jackman character, Tommy. The conquistador named Tomas is the hero of the novel his wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) is writing, and the spaceman named Tom Creo is the hero of that novel’s final chapter, which Tommy writes after his deathbed promise to his wife."

See? Simple. Where The Fountain seems to have gone wrong, however, is that by not clearly laying out the (fairly simple) mechanism of its own story, it focussed attention onto the weaknesses of the philosophy expressed within, rather than allowing for a more immersive experience. I can see why Aronofsky didn’t want to do that, though: The Fountain is not a film about a man who reads his dying wife’s book and writes a concluding chapter, it is the story of that book imagined as part-real, part-fantasy whole. And it suffers for that - as a more detailed commentary points out, 

"… small details like the hairs on the tree mimicking the hairs on Izzy’s neck when Tom 1 [the ‘real’ character] whispered to her in her sleep scream of the somewhat overly sentimental writings of a non-author scientist trying to finish his wife’s book."

To blame the jejune characteristics of an artwork on the (somewhat ‘hidden’) fiction-within-a-fiction elements is a bit of a self-referential copout. I understand why making the central conceit explicit would detract from what the film was really trying to say, but even though I’d more or less guessed it early on - that the dude floating through space in a giant bubble was, well, a fictional construct - in the deluge of imagery and themes thereafter my earlier realisation got a little lost. Which is itself perfectly Buddhist, but not perhaps great film-making (unless it’s a ‘well I’ll leave it up to you to decide what’s happening’ narrative, which is just irritating).
And as for the Buddhist themes, there’s a good critical take on them here - basically pointing out that, as is a problem with a lot of part-adaptations, the film remains in thrall to Western and Hollywood notions of grief and death. I don’t wholly agree with that, or see it wholly as a negative criticism - if Aronofsky’s intent, as he publicly stated, was to make a film about coming to terms with grief, then it’s true to its (Western) source and making it into a Buddhist film about self-abnegation and enlightenment would be false (although I suppose how then to justify using the imagery?). Certainly elements of the different mythos at work are contradictory, like the Mayan self-sacrifice and the Christian pursuit of eternal life - though notably that is denounced as heresy, by the gloriously cruel Inquisitor - which in a sense all figure as part of one man’s psychologically tortured attempt at philosophical syncretism.
Rational sceptics feature too, in the jungle and the operating theatre, and the dogged pursuit of a miracle cure feels like an emotional cliché - but thinking back to Pi and Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky’s films are about largely irrationally (and mystically) driven people, not naturalistic portraits of otherwise ordinary individuals. There is an inherent hyperrealism to his portrayal of the depths human suffering and knowledge (Buddhistically speaking, the same thing) push people to: The Fountain is the same applied to the human imagination and religious spirit; a kind of hyperfantasy, if you will. I may not agree with the conclusion (that “death is the road to awe” - surely, life is?) but I enjoyed the trip. 
I expect to feel a similar way with Cloud Atlas, at least based on reading the book. David Mitchell is a skilful writer, but as far as themes go they - or rather, it - became pretty obvious and didactic as the story unfolded. Probably I find it harder to disagree with his liberal-humanist outlook, as it is essentially my own, but as a fiction retelling of world history the grandiosity and bluntness of the book irked me slightly. The closing chapter, which doubtless features as a speech somewhere in the film, is a moving tour-de-force of literary polemic for the current age; but it really doesn’t have much to say that’s original, even if it says it in a mock-18th century voice:

"… one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction. “

So to criticise The Fountain for intellectual vacuousness and narrative confusion, or at least complexity, would seem to likely apply to a film of Cloud Atlas. Perhaps it will be saved by its compelling individual narratives and the intelligibility of its overarching theme - that where the strong control the weak, humanity suffers (but like the Western attitude to grief, it is a viewpoint held contrary to the existence we have, in this case, chosen for ourselves under capitalism.) Personally, I think I still prefer the individual meditations of The Fountain to the didactics of Cloud Atlas, although its personal moments of reflection surpass the end result of the former.
Of course, the real attraction of The Fountain probably remains its visuals - based mostly around macro photography and fluid dynamics rather than CGI, to fit within a lower budget - and the Clint Mansell score with the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai - familiar from his earlier movies, and I in fact downloaded and listened to it long before seeing the film (lending an extra frisson to its reincarnation and time-shifting elements) with it reminding me a lot of Grails’ Eastern-themed post-rock. 

"What’s a mandala?"

"They’re the Buddhist designs that are always circles filled with things, the circle representing the void and the things illusion, see. You sometimes see mandalas painted over a Bodhisattva’s head and can tell his history from studying it."

Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

So I finally got round to seeing Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, and I really liked it. It was probably being shown on Film4 because Cloud Atlas is being released in cinemas here this week, with similar time-jumping plot style and opportunities for lavish imagery. I’ve read the David Mitchell book and, although less intricately woven, overall I think it’s more complicated (or at least complex) than the plot of The Fountain - if you understand it, that is. Roger Ebert has laid it out pretty straightforwardly:

"Is the film a success? Not for most people, no. I imagine they don’t realize, for one thing, that it all takes place in the present and there is only one “real” Hugh Jackman character, Tommy. The conquistador named Tomas is the hero of the novel his wife Izzi (Rachel Weisz) is writing, and the spaceman named Tom Creo is the hero of that novel’s final chapter, which Tommy writes after his deathbed promise to his wife."

See? Simple. Where The Fountain seems to have gone wrong, however, is that by not clearly laying out the (fairly simple) mechanism of its own story, it focussed attention onto the weaknesses of the philosophy expressed within, rather than allowing for a more immersive experience. I can see why Aronofsky didn’t want to do that, though: The Fountain is not a film about a man who reads his dying wife’s book and writes a concluding chapter, it is the story of that book imagined as part-real, part-fantasy whole. And it suffers for that - as a more detailed commentary points out, 

"… small details like the hairs on the tree mimicking the hairs on Izzy’s neck when Tom 1 [the ‘real’ character] whispered to her in her sleep scream of the somewhat overly sentimental writings of a non-author scientist trying to finish his wife’s book."

To blame the jejune characteristics of an artwork on the (somewhat ‘hidden’) fiction-within-a-fiction elements is a bit of a self-referential copout. I understand why making the central conceit explicit would detract from what the film was really trying to say, but even though I’d more or less guessed it early on - that the dude floating through space in a giant bubble was, well, a fictional construct - in the deluge of imagery and themes thereafter my earlier realisation got a little lost. Which is itself perfectly Buddhist, but not perhaps great film-making (unless it’s a ‘well I’ll leave it up to you to decide what’s happening’ narrative, which is just irritating).

And as for the Buddhist themes, there’s a good critical take on them here - basically pointing out that, as is a problem with a lot of part-adaptations, the film remains in thrall to Western and Hollywood notions of grief and death. I don’t wholly agree with that, or see it wholly as a negative criticism - if Aronofsky’s intent, as he publicly stated, was to make a film about coming to terms with grief, then it’s true to its (Western) source and making it into a Buddhist film about self-abnegation and enlightenment would be false (although I suppose how then to justify using the imagery?). Certainly elements of the different mythos at work are contradictory, like the Mayan self-sacrifice and the Christian pursuit of eternal life - though notably that is denounced as heresy, by the gloriously cruel Inquisitor - which in a sense all figure as part of one man’s psychologically tortured attempt at philosophical syncretism.

Rational sceptics feature too, in the jungle and the operating theatre, and the dogged pursuit of a miracle cure feels like an emotional cliché - but thinking back to Pi and Requiem for a Dream, Aronofsky’s films are about largely irrationally (and mystically) driven people, not naturalistic portraits of otherwise ordinary individuals. There is an inherent hyperrealism to his portrayal of the depths human suffering and knowledge (Buddhistically speaking, the same thing) push people to: The Fountain is the same applied to the human imagination and religious spirit; a kind of hyperfantasy, if you will. I may not agree with the conclusion (that “death is the road to awe” - surely, life is?) but I enjoyed the trip. 

I expect to feel a similar way with Cloud Atlas, at least based on reading the book. David Mitchell is a skilful writer, but as far as themes go they - or rather, it - became pretty obvious and didactic as the story unfolded. Probably I find it harder to disagree with his liberal-humanist outlook, as it is essentially my own, but as a fiction retelling of world history the grandiosity and bluntness of the book irked me slightly. The closing chapter, which doubtless features as a speech somewhere in the film, is a moving tour-de-force of literary polemic for the current age; but it really doesn’t have much to say that’s original, even if it says it in a mock-18th century voice:

"… one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself. Yes, the devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost. In an individual, selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction. “

So to criticise The Fountain for intellectual vacuousness and narrative confusion, or at least complexity, would seem to likely apply to a film of Cloud Atlas. Perhaps it will be saved by its compelling individual narratives and the intelligibility of its overarching theme - that where the strong control the weak, humanity suffers (but like the Western attitude to grief, it is a viewpoint held contrary to the existence we have, in this case, chosen for ourselves under capitalism.) Personally, I think I still prefer the individual meditations of The Fountain to the didactics of Cloud Atlas, although its personal moments of reflection surpass the end result of the former.

Of course, the real attraction of The Fountain probably remains its visuals - based mostly around macro photography and fluid dynamics rather than CGI, to fit within a lower budget - and the Clint Mansell score with the Kronos Quartet and Mogwai - familiar from his earlier movies, and I in fact downloaded and listened to it long before seeing the film (lending an extra frisson to its reincarnation and time-shifting elements) with it reminding me a lot of Grails’ Eastern-themed post-rock. 

film the fountain darren aronofsky cloud atlas books buddhism
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