Friday, January 21, 2011

John Williams: Hack

The year was 2005 and my skills as a Lothario were at their peak. Due to my notoriety as a high level actor in local theater, I was often invited to parties, held right in people’s apartments, where other men and women in their early twenties consumed alcohol and tried to close the gap between two human souls and their genitals.
On one such evening I met a young honey who’s considerable rack was being groped by some gay dudes because that’s something that they like to do at parties. I corrected their technique and sent them on their way, breaking out everything in my charm repertoire to seal the deal with this aspiring opera singer.
We engaged in something I like to call Hep Talk, where I break out my knowledge of classic authors like Beverly Cleary until its clear that dry humping is underway. And did we ever - dry hump that is- we must have gone on for fifteen minutes until the party's hosts asked us to leave so they could go to bed/not be grossed out anymore.
Sadly, my swinging lifestyle was not to last. Once it became clear that I didn’t have the chops to be a college thespian, I quickly retreated into a state of boozy recluse and all but gave up on dry humping my was to infamy.
It was almost a whole year before I remembered something that opera singer had said that night that didn’t jive with my worldview. When I told her my favorite musicians included The Shins and John Williams she haughtily dismissed the world’s greatest composer as “Okay, but really derivative.”

I quickly sough out whether this could be true, and the truth was truer than I could deal with. According to this Slate article Mr. Wlliams, the plucker of our youthful heartstrings and pied piper of wonderment, actually is pretty derivative of Max Steiner, the first great composer of the talky era, who himself was sort of a hack asshole. Steiner “could emit late-19th-century music, redolent of Strauss and Mahler, by the kilo. Outside Skull Island, that plush orchestral sound would dominate film scores for the following decades: the Austro-German-Hollywood grand style epitomized by Steiner and another Austrian, Erich Wolfgang Korngold.”
I don’t know who any of those people are but I’m going to go out on a limb and say they probably ended up being Nazi war criminals.

Not knowing who else to turn to, I contacted the opera singer on something we used at the time called MySpace, to concede that, yes, maybe John Williams was “sort of derivative.”
She praised the accuracy of my research but pointed out that, since I had avoided her at every turn for the past year, she wanted nothing to do with me and she hoped I learned to treat people better.
This has nothing to do with the larger point. I’m just a sad person.
So who else has John Williams raided for a dose of whimsy?
The Two Gomers Run a Marathon podcast is way unfunny and light on information about running. This episode, however, cracked the JW scam wide open. About 11 minutes in, one of these Gomers beaks just how William’s scores are mere stand ins for the classical pieces from when music was just being invented. Home Alone is clearly evoking the Nutcracker throughout, stealing both key and meter for basically every sequence.

It turns out that George Lucas is fairly easygoing with licensing out the rights of Star Wars for theatrical productions. I learned from the Proudly Resents pod cast, that the Dark Room, a fifty seat theater in San Francisco, was granted permission to do stage shows of Star Wars, the only restriction being that none of the original music could be used. No matter, it turns out that audiences have little ability to decipher the original score from The Planets, the composition it clearly lifted.

Am I actually disillusioned that John Willliams is a fucking hack? Not really. While he was the first musician I ever doled out money for a cassette recording of when I was 12, I never presumed he was a great innovator. Just because the Superman theme make me feel like I imagine a coked up bull rider does God massages his temples, doesn’t mean that the source needs to be 100% original. If anything, it fills me with great hope that I could one day rip off a major talent lost to the ages. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself as I put the finishing touches on my new manuscript, War and Not War.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From the mind of Uwe Boll: Rampage

Perusing a Redbox machine recently, my unassuming brother inquired whether a film titled Darfur was worth seeing. Considering how many films completely miss a theatrical release in recent years, he was being perfectly reasonable to assume a film they had never heard of could be an under the radar gem. So he was a little shocked when I squelched “No, that’s a Uwe Boll film!” with a pitch and urgency usually reserved for “ No, don’t touch those rusty AIDS needles!”
Somehow I knew - simply by virtue of being directed by German doctor of literature/ super prolific director Uwe Boll- that the film Darfur had to be equally offensive to the actual events of Darfur. That I have never seen a Uwe Boll film is beside the fact. Since House of the Dead (2003), Boll has chruned out several films a year and earned a reputation as one of the all time great hacks. To be so hated for his lack of talent, in an era when plenty of schlock films are making it to DVD, is perhaps more impressive than actually making quality features would be. Boll should be easy to ignore as his films are only receive scant theatrical runs and yet in 8 short years he has captured the ire of the interweb as if his films were compulsory viewing in public schools. Something about Boll’s penchant for catching once A list actors in need of a quick pay check and inserting them into completely inappropriate rolls and his exploitation of a loop hole in the German tax code that funds all of his features have made into some sort of schlock filmmaker super villain.
And yet I have never seen a Uwe Boll film. Just by dumb luck, I managed to avoid the string of movies being touted as some of he worst ever made. Also, I’ve mostly only watched reruns of Made on MTV in the years that Boll has been making movies.
So when I saw that Rampage (2009) was streaming off of Netflix, I thought I would watch the first 10 minutes to see exactly how inept a filmmaker Boll actually is. 100 Minutes later the credits rolled and I did not know what to make of what I just saw.
Rampage does not have a brain in its schlock head. This I know. Yet it is deliriously stupid in a way that I could not aver my eyes from. Boll clearly hates his audience and creates a protagonist he probably thinks mirrors them and carries out their ultimate mean spirited fantasy.
Rampage is filmed in a cinema verite style that disguises it as a film of far greater nuance than it comes close to being. Our protagonist Bill Williamson (who’s Germanic mug is not so dissimilar from Boll) is working out in his room. I have to say that a character exercising almost always sucks me into a movie. As portrayed by Brendan Fletcher, Bill is about as douchey and aloof as they come, but I couldn’t stop wondering “What was he getting in shape for?” We learn that Bill is a college drop out who’s super-on-the-go parents think its time for him to get his own place. Bill is reticent.
Bill works at a garage where his boss wants him to abandon the van that is his pet project even though Bill has totally fixed, like, 3 cars that day!
The local barista doesn’t make Bill’s macchiato with enough foam even though he claims to make the best coffee in town. When he meets his only friend to discuss philosophy over fast food chicken, the counter girl ends up spilling soda all over his lap. It seems as if Bill is being pushed to the edge by societies demands and poor customer service.
Rampage really doesn’t deserve much more of a synopsis other than to say that Bill assembles a bullet proof suit , blows up the police station with the van he has been rigging with remote control, and goes around killing everyone he encounters for an hour or so. He then frames his philosopher friends for his killing spree/ bank robbery and fakes his suicide.
This is all filmed in a style similar to a Paul Greengrass film and I was actually surprised that Rampage had a fairly engaging visual style. But, oh boy, was this ever a contemptible movie.
I don’t know if Rampage would still be on my mind if I had not watched it the night before the Tucson shootings. In the past two weeks there has been a public discussion as to whether pundits and politicians are advocating the common man to take up arms and in the process fetishising a revolutionary motif to advance a fairly status quo political agenda. Despite it meandering and meaningless philosophical discuassion in the first act, Rampage does not even try to link its violence to any political movement. Here’s a list of what seemed to push the protagonist to the edge.
1. Parents wanting you to et your own place.
2. Boss telling you to do your job.
3. Asshole Baristas.
4. Fast food girl spilling your drink.

Boll seems to think that American’s (and yes, I’m going to assume he is targeting America) are motivated by no greater cause than inconvenience while at the same time giving those assholes the brainless entertainment they crave. Rampage basically plays out like Columbine if it had gone well for the shooters and I can now rightfully hate Uwe Boll like everyone else because he seems to think this is the hero an American audience will get behind. I don’t think I feel the need to go any further into the Boll oeuvre, but he did get me to watch 90 minutes more of this film than I had planned, so who’s the dupe?