Saturday, 22 August 2009

Avatar first impressions

I am tired like one of Steinbeck’s characters in The Grapes of Wrath. The reason I am so tired is that I blasted my break at work by horse-sprinting to the cinema to see the famed preview (fifteen minutes of extracts) of James Cameron’s Avatar, which I’ve been fantasising about since forever. I’ve just come back home and I don’t have the brain to put together a cogent article on the screening, so here’s my thoughts in small capsules.

1. This really is going to be the new Star Wars. The premises have a lot in common – a massive, exotic and fascinating new world to explore, a plane of genre which stands at the margins between sci-fi and fantasy, a tone and presentation which are vaguely kid-friendly (the film is certainly not as dark as Aliens or Terminator), and a melange of epic drama and a (slightly juvenile) social affirmation narrative, even though the latter two tropes are not as distant as one may think. Interestingly the ‘social affirmation’ themes, which are indirectly linked with ‘coming-of-age’ topics (the latter really evident in Star Wars – we’ll see about Avatar), are prevalently masculine in terms of the anxieties, concerns and fantasies which they suggest. I guess this may be called the counterbalance to Cameron’s Titanic, which was entirely about feminine coming-of-age tropes. Anyway, I’m quite confident that Avatar will repeat the success and impact of the original Lucas saga.
2. At the same time, the divergence in style and execution between Lucas and Cameron is so strong that the two sagas will show some very important differences. I look forward to discovering what these will be (beyond the fact that Avatar will be really well written, of course).
3. The 3-D is really impressive. As long as the characters are just sitting around tables and talking, it’s nothing to drop your jaw. But when the action starts, and despite the fact that the CGI is not dramatically improved over present productions, it’s all ‘Holy Shit!’ Of course, a lot of this is due to the fact that Cameron is the best action-movie director that I can think of and his sense of pace and pathos are miles beyond Lucas (or anyone else). I fear this will not be given enough credit when the film comes out, but the 3-D is only so overwhelming because it’s in the hands of someone who knows how to make the absolute best of it. Hell, even the most outlandish action scenes seem to be given a backdrop of realism and plausibility, something which is so rare today that fire-fights and car-chases are often the most boring part of a film.
4. Story looks promising. I wouldn’t believe in a single photon of the hype that is surrounding this thing if I weren’t familiar with the excellence of Cameron’s typical stories. No more than this can be said, but then, I wasn’t going to this showing to check on the story.
5. So what was I checking on? Well, what I wanted to find out was the quality of the science-fiction. I am very pleased to say that Avatar looked set to fulfil every ounce of expectation that I had for it. It really may represent the true rebirth of the genre following the 1999-2009 decade of total inertia inbetween The Matrix and Wall-E. The film is very heavy on CGI, but at the same time it is (or at least seems) aware of its own virtuality, foregrounding it as it displaces the identity of the main characters into its ‘avatars.’ There’s a wealth of jargon I could throw out here to show off – ontological displacement, heterotopias in virtuality, dialectical empiricism and other fancy stuff. But the point that I wish to communicate is simply that Avatar shows a real sensitivity to the dualism between ‘old-school’ industrial science-fiction representing the real and ‘new-school’ digital science-fiction representing an unreal space (themes obviously also present in The Matrix and Wall-E), the discrepancy or confusion between which has been the leading cause of sci-fi’s decline. (A complete analysis of this phenomenon can be found in one of my previous articles, specifically here: [LINK]). Avatar presents an intriguing combination of old and new science-fictional tropes, making it feel like a much more ‘pertinent’ representation with respect to the world we live in. The extent to which this will be the case will be seen when the complete film is released.

A very impressive preview all things considered. I already can’t wait.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Damn bad night

I have been invited out by some friends to go clubbing and the club turned out to be a skark of such proportions that by comparison a night out in a bovine slaughter-house would sound like the Oscars party. This is a denunciation. Do not follow my example.

Admittedly a part of it was my fault. I’d gone out the night before too and I had about three hours of sleep in my body, which didn’t set me up for the best of times. My head was heavy with the additional weight of undreamt dreams, aching and pounding with the inner pressure.

The club in question is called La Loco and it is just below the Moulin Rouge. From outside, it looked freaking awesome. There was even a live feed from inside which showed the multitudes moving under fluorescent lights. The queue was immense, but we meet this grotesque little individual who seems to know one of our friends and he leads us inside to the cloakroom.

That is where we get the first slap. ‘It is thirty-five euros to get in,’ he tells us. Hardy har har. What is this, the Sultan’s limousine Jacuzzi, with top-models swimming naked within it? We negotiate, and those of us who do not wish to get the free drinks implied in the price are allowed to walk in for fifteen euros.

In we go. The first thing we notice is that we have ended up in an ethnically exclusive club. Everybody in there is either black or Arab. The two groups don’t seem to particularly like each other either, which results in a bit of a heavy atmosphere. The second thing we notice is that every motherfucker in there is dressed up like some kind of vampire hierophant. They’re wearing so much shit in terms of necklaces, sunglasses, armbands, piercings, hats, spikes, sheriff pentacles, Merovingian flag-staffs and pre-Columbian underwear that if any of them were to get laid it would probably take them seventy-five minutes just to take all of their clothes off.

The first room we walk into is awright. It’s pretty small, but it strikes us as the kind of place people go to rest in – there’s a bar and couches and stuff. A few of us sit down for the first few drinks while the rest of us start dancing. I’m on the dance floor of course, and I start showing off my skillz. After approximately five minutes of smooth moves, I take a look around to see whether the ambience has been impressed. I notice a gay bloke with eye-lashes like the ends of a broomstick and even more copper jewellery around his neck than the three wankers around him put together eyeing me the way that cheese eyes a hamburger. No thanks.

I move to the bar and instinct tells me to ask how much the Red Bull will cost before ordering it. Ten euros. Right. Stick it up your ass and give wings to your colon.

I’m beginning to get bored of this room. For one thing, it is so small that it looks like a cell in one of those ships in the Matrix. For another, there’s an amplifier exactly behind the place where I’m sitting and I’m slowly turning deaf. So I start yacking with people and I convince them to go downstairs. There, we are faced with a magnificent atrium. The place is huge and crowded, a bit like hell. Unfortunately, the music is rubbish. It’s like we’ve leapt five years back in time except everything is at half the usual tempo. How are we supposed to mosh to this shit? By the time a drum has been hit twice you’ve had the time to take a correspondence course in Zen religion and learnt how to levitate.

We remain down there a record-breaking thirteen seconds. We go upstairs, but we are already bored of this pig-sty bathed in red light, so we decide to go for a smoke (I don’t smoke cigarettes actually, but I would have followed my friends anywhere as long as they were getting out of that horrendous grotto). They’ve got a smoker’s quarters, intelligently selected to be the smallest room in the entire building. There’s about four-hundred people in there. It’s also dark and muggy. Walking into it is a bit like walking into an orgy, except you don’t get the sex. Hell, you don’t even get to see people naked. All you get is the inhalation of an airy gas composed for the most part of the stuff that comes out of tyre factories. Remaining inside that place feels like one of those tests they give to military aircraft pilots to examine their resistance to extreme atmospheric conditions.

Of course this is not particularly pleasant, and one of our girls is beginning to get pissed off. She already has a bit of an irritable temper and having had to pay fifteen euros for a situation of general discomfort is getting on her nerves. She gets out of there fuming (forgive the pun). The instant that she does, a tangle consisting of a black guy holding an Arab by the neck rolls into her shouting and steamrolls her onto the wall. She calls for help and is instantly answered by two bouncers who dive into the fight head-first and turn it into one of those clouds you see in cartoons where some character’s leg or head pops out of the dust and the rest is just a complete mess. Me and my friends stick our arms into it and manage to pull her out like a dog dragged dripping out of a river.

We then go back to the dancing room. What a great idea this is. I don’t have a problems with inarticulate clubs themselves, but I do have problems with DJs whose IQ runs below the line of 75 (which means I have problems with more than half of them, really). That specific night we must have had a record-breaker of the psychic faculties because no-one with an IQ over 20 could have enjoyed those pleognastic distortion effects we were hearing over the songs, at least no-one who is distasteful of those angsty, stringy sound effects they put in movies when a priest is shagging a little boy. The guy also had a tendency to introduce escalating battery rolls at four-hundred and forty-five beats per minute only to send the place into silence immediately when they stop. Dude! That’s when the music is supposed to explode! That’s the 101 of DJs! It’s like a basket-ball player having to learn how to bounce the ball! It’s like Hugh Grant having to learn how to shave his balls!

Somewhere around four in the morning (I lost track of time to some extent), the man had the great idea of adding Reggae. I’ve already expostulated on the subject of this genre of music, but for anyone who missed the last few posts, this is worth quoting again: “Reggae has the same effects on me as a blowjob given by a really fat woman – it’s kind of ok when you’re totally stoned and can’t even get off the couch and all your sense of resistance falls away into the background as naturally as steam in clouds, but it’s complete rubbish at any other time. I have more difficulty telling the difference between one Reggae song and another than I do between a dumb and deaf midget eunuch and a four-foot tall Lord of the Rings fan with his legs chopped off.”

At five, the metro started working again and we could finally go home, trapped amid junkies and girls throwing up. The DJ’s own voice, blasted through the amplifiers over the music, echoed in my skull with his horribly distorted phrase: ‘Are you having fun?!’ Yes – so much so I was playing my cell-phone’s videogames in your fucking disco. Thank you very much, you disgusting jerk.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Going retrospective. VERY retro, actually - six years ago.

All right! I will now go a little retrospective because I feel like speaking of my introduction to higher education. When I first went to university, I was offered an accommodation which I can’t say seemed particularly spacious, but given the extraordinary and exhilarating sense of freedom that came with first going to university, I was feeling rather jolly in that nut. How snug. Alongside the bed-sheets, the only thing I’d been given was a leaflet detailing the basic rules and info of college life. Mostly this consisted in a list of the most absurdly obvious stuff you can imagine unless you need to be told that you can’t gut fish over your carpet or make Molotov bombs with your toilet paper, but it came alongside an invitation to a ‘Welcome Event’ organised by the literature department for new students on the next day. Unlike the leaflet, this rather piqued my interest. I make myself some dinner and go to sleep, already looking forward to being welcomed by the poet laureates.

The next day, I step outside of my block feeling hip and jocky. Due to the fact that I am new to the responsibilities of living alone, I walk out so early that I might as well have been riding an eight-hundred year-old donkey on a wheel-less skateboard for all the time it awards me. Since I can afford to take a walk, I opt to see what the university looks like before going to this protoplasmic event. There are a field and a lake close by, so I take a detour to my left and walk right into the high grass, amid the buzzing insects and the crisp, sparkling air. I am beginning to feel like Wordsworth.

As I turn by a small rising, I find myself face to face with a bloody horse. This sends my rural Romantic identifications quite to hell. It’s not that I’m scared at the idea of moving on, but the horse happens to be staring at me – not even chewing or anything, it just stands still like some horse from The Exorcist. For some retrospectively unfathomable reason, this is a more disquieting experience that it seems – the horse is standing in the fields much like a vulture would be sitting on a tree, not in the sense that it bobs its head or anything, it just makes you wish he would sod off.

I turn away from the intently ocular horse and head off in a different direction: I am going towards some trees. I become engrossed in the walk until I look at my watch and figure it’s about time to start heading towards the literature department. That’s when I look about me and realise I have no idea as to where the fuck I’ve walked into. There’s trees and stuff and all the university buildings look kind of far-away, like the place where ducks migrate to in the distance or something. I see a girl walking towards them like a nymph emerging from the woods and I decide to follow her (much like a duck would have done when forming a ‘V’ around a leader – the parallel is regaining Wordsworthian tinges). She obviously thinks I’m stalking her because after a few minutes she accelerates her pace like a trotting pig and I begin to lose her. By the time she’s almost jogging I’ve reached the buildings themselves so I can stop the cardiovascular pursuit, and with the help of some indications by a bunch of Korean students, I find the event.

This proves to be even more intimidating than that bloody horse. There’s groups of people chatting amid themselves, seemingly arranged in such a way as to give their back specifically to me. Not a single person ‘welcomes’ me. I walk up to the table where some food has been arranged and pick up a light cake-ish thing – in reality I am not feeling particularly hungry, it’s just that sweet stuff has the quality of making me instantly peckish and this pastry looks like it might have some chocolate inside. Instead it’s full of goddamn salmon. I don’t really like fish, so once I’ve taken the bite I reluctantly swallow it and start looking for somewhere to throw away the rest. Fancy that, I can’t find one. So I’m walking around randomly holding this piece of open salmon pie in my hand, when I meet a Greek fat guy who is alone like myself. I say hello, and we initiate a conversation. Things are beginning to get smoother. A little bit of alcohol and we’d be goading like gods.

After a few minutes of chat, we come to the subject of the fish. I am bearing it around like a disciple of Jesus following Him around Mount Sinai, so the heir of the Spartans points me to a bin a short distance behind me. I thank him and tell him I’ll be right back, then I head off to dispose of my unwelcome marine companion. I am less than two steps away from the bin when I am suddenly faced not with a horse this time but with an old lady who is bearing a whole tray of those salmonic balls. ‘How are you, dear?’ she asks, obviously taking pity on my loser status. Of course I can’t bin the fish in front of the same old woman who’s bearing it, so I reluctantly put it in my mouth and swallow it. Christ is it gross. I swear they’ve managed to cram an entire fucking salmon into one of these balls, they are so impossibly dense. I turn my head to see what the Greek fatso is doing (and to keep my grimace from being too apparent), but the son of a bitch has seen me castled with the old woman and he has taken it as a starter’s signal to chat up two young girls over in his corner. I turn back to Miss East Anglia 1938. She tells me that she is the Dean’s wife, and I know now that I will never get her off me.

This could be you.

I am saved by some senior professor who gets up to make a speech as general conversations are broken and all attention is diverted towards the centre-stage. It is then that I discover that the longer a professor spends within academic circles, the goofier the individual in question becomes. This man had obviously been in the field for the past three centuries since his general appearance was less that of a luminary of the arts than that of a dazzled mop-stick held for twenty-two years in an amusement park for kids to throw balls at – except that he was not funny for jack. He stuttered and repeated himself and gesticulated like a windmill. How these people can seem attractive to young female students is, I think, a wonder without parallel in the human race. Seeing this also kind of deters you from pursuing an academic career yourself. I mean, if that’s what twenty-five years of teaching does to you, then frankly I’d sooner take up employment as a gladiator.

As it soon turned out, the professor was going to be my tutor for the classes on modernism. I probably wouldn’t be speaking about him at all if it weren’t for his habit of writing on the board without looking at it in an attempt to show off the fact that he can note down important vocabulary while simultaneously talking to us about another subject. But as any elementary mind could tell you, something thus conceived is always destined to become an enormous cock-up. Halfway through the writing he forgets what it was he was jotting down because he is so taken up with his speech and he leaves the words half undone, and if he doesn’t, his words become so long that they start running into and over each other, but of course he doesn’t notice because he is looking at us instead of the board. Once he put my academic qualities seriously to the test when wanting to write under ‘winter’ from Eliot’s Wasteland the word ‘oracular,’ but he bent the ‘o’ into a ‘b’ and left the word off after the ‘a,’ thereby writing ‘bra’ in relation to Eliot’s desires in what appeared to us to have been the greatest Freudian slip in the history of academia. Personally I was sticking my pen into my ribs to keep myself from laughing even as I felt like a five-year-old for giggling at something so idiotic. As for the point the professor was making, no-one managed to follow a fucking thing.

In fairness to the guy, despite his resemblance to C3PO he really was the most excellent of tutors, and for all of his delivery skills, his speech felt very warm and welcoming. I spent the rest of that meeting finally socialising with some of the people there and exchanging numbers. I went back to my room and allowed myself to sink into sleep as I pondered on how to start calling these people the next day.