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The very long gap between posts has an explanation:

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Please buy my fucking book.

I have a bunch of projects on the new to-do list:

A collection on Albert Brooks that will be part of Edinburgh University Press’ ReFocus series.

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There’s also a project on infrastructure after the apocalypse in film-literature adaptations, which is getting started with something about The Postman (1997). I’ll have a post on Kevin Costner’s continuing weirdness some time in the week.

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There’s also a project on spy movies and geography because for some reason I can find something to write about in Bourne movies at the drop of a hat.

Bourne Identity control room 2.pngAnd I have more stuff about infrastructure and genre, going from Hollywood to non-Hollywood mostly because I want an excuse to write about Memories of Murder (2003)

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At long last my dream of writing about Albert Brooks has found a forum.Lost in America quit your job

The good people at Senses of Cinema accepted my proposal for a Great Directors entry for Albert Brooks. I have fairly big plans:

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As I figure out how to get heurist to cooperate with my requests, here are some screen grabs of the narrative locations of the Top 25 Box Office, Next 25 Box Office, and Prestige films.

Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 8.59.38 am Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 8.59.57 am Screen Shot 2014-07-12 at 9.00.20 amNothing in Australia or New Zealand or all of South America. The Chad locations are non-Hollywood – that’s The Passenger. And Yemen is a weird mistake I’m figuring out how to fix. All that’s a way of saying that the non-US-non-Europe settings are even more rare than they appear.

There’s a special issue of Modern Fiction Studies deadline coming up for an issue on infrastructuralism. Originally I had planned an article about Philip Reeves’ Mortal Engines series, something along the lines of “a city travels on its sewers.” But I changed my mind and went for zombies instead. It may or may not have had something to do with Bruce Robbins, one of the editors, writing about zombies.

This is the current version of the first paragraph (I’ve removed the footnotes):

In Pretend We’re Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American Pop Culture, Annalee Newitz connects zombie narratives to, among other things, slavery, colonialism, and race relations. Her contention that, “Zombies, vampires, and mummies bear in their half-alive bodies the signs of great social injustice whose effects cannot ever be entirely extinguished” (Newitz 91) is true, but not exhaustive. Recent articles on zombies have read them in terms of, among other things, affect, AIDS, appetite, biopolitical governmentality, dehumanization, imperialism, military occupation, postcolonial hybridity, and precarity. This incomplete list points to how the figure of the zombie can combine social critique with sales. While this is another essay about zombies, it is not about zombies and race or gender or sexuality or class or biopolitical governmentality. At least not explicitly. Rather, it is an essay about zombie novels and infrastructure. If there’s a practical undercurrent to zombie apocalypse novels, it’s to be found in their engagement with the role and form of the infrastructure and planning in everyday life after the apocalypse. Novels like Max Brooks’s World War Z,Mira Grant’s zombie trilogy Feed, Deadline, and Blackout, and Colson Whitehead’s Zone One,imagine not just fighting the zombie horde, but also rebuilding after the zombie apocalypse. For these novels, arriving at something like zombie détente is a matter of public works. In other words, zombie apocalypses in early 21st century American literature stage the danger the crumbling US infrastructure – and the way of life it supports – poses to the nation getting about its everyday business, an ambient danger that practically precludes the collective action necessary to confront social injustices.

(In the Land of the Dead image a highway overpass has been turned into a defensive structure, not a roadway. In the Warm Bodies image the city has turned back to an ancient/Medieval city form, the walled city.)

When Jurgen Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the US Men’s National Team squad, the first thing I though of was Ric Flair. The more I read about how Donovan would provide leadership, or be a supersub the more Ric Flair seemed the best way to understand what the Human Interest approach to sport has wrought.

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Back in 2003, Ric Flair had a career renaissance. He even had a brief run at the Big Gold Belt. At the heart of the feud was the question, does Ric Flair still have it in him?

Then, a few years later, Flair was once again at the heart of a narrative about his ability to still get it done in the ring. There are a number of moments in the lead-up to his Career-Threatening Match at Wrestlemania against Shawn Michaels that show one thing that pro wrestling does so well: it understands how our memories of performers colour our perceptions of them.

Pro wrestling can have a moment like the go-home promo between Michaels and Flair, in which Flair gives a history lesson on his career and links those achievements to his upcoming match. He brings out the NWA title he won almost thirty years previous, a gesture that both indicates how old he is and how much greatness he brings with him. That greatness creates The Nature Boy. And when HBK calls Flair Old Yeller, and says that he’s going to take him behind the woodshed and put him out of his misery, putting in place a narrative that acknowledges that Ric Flair when he’s The Nature Boy, when he’s Naitch, anything is still possible.

The most common reason for having Donovan on the roster was that he would come off the bench in the 80th minute and score the game-winning goal when the team needed it, is the very sort of Human Interest narrative that pro wrestling makes its money off.  But professional football is not professional wrestling. The level of cooperation that made Flair’s last couple of runs at the top of the card possible – wrestling being fake and all – is not present in the World Cup. I sincerely doubt that Philipp Lamb or Fabio Coentrao or any player on Ghana’s squad will sell Donovan’s offense.

The manuscript for Film and the American Presidency ran into a due date, and as has been the case throughout the project, Jeff Menne is the source of good things happened. He’s the headliner of our editor pair.

Amongst my chapter responsibilities was Diane Rubenstein, who wrote a chapter on President Obama’s avatars not as presidents on films, but a film-industrial turn to questions of chattel slavery. For me, the highlight comes during her set-up, when she does an extended reading of a skit from the old Richard Pryor Show in which President Pryor holds a press conference. 

My reasons for enjoying her analysis begin with the analysis itself, but then my biography takes over. When I was seven years old, I found some of my dad’s less-frequently-played albums, most notably the George Carlin and Richard Pryor records. It is no stretch to say the most important texts to my current life are (in something like rank order) Class Clown, Occupation: Foole, An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo and FM & AM.

The more forbidden pleasure was Richard Pryor’s That Nigger’s CrazyI remember the first time I listened to “Wino & Junkie” I didn’t understand what a junkie was, but I could register the bleakness of the humour.

I would try every one of the Carlin routines out not only on my primary school classmates (the seven words routine killed at both Sunnyhill and Hough Street) but also on the women who ran Saint Monica’s CCD (and even the priests). (I also love that St Monica’s has “cville” in their url. Glorious.)  Carlin was reachable – I parroted his material. At some point one of the CCD people must have told my parents that I was doing Carlin’s material because my dad told me one day, watching a Packer game (while we listened to Max and Jim on WTMJ), that it was fine if I wanted to tell George Carlin jokes, but I was never to repeat any of the Richard Pryor routines. Ever.

If there’s one thing that makes The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, William Wyler) really interesting, it’s the way it shows the logic behind post-war suburbanization without getting 100% behind it. I’d say the film’s more like 75% pro-suburbanization. Of the three main male characters, the younger two return to live with their parents. This return home bespeaks not just the relative youth of the military, but also the mid-century housing shortage. Suburbanization addressed the very real problem of where to put the demobbed, but it wasn’t the only or inevitable solution. The Best Years of Our Lives shows that at the end of the war, suburbia had its appeal, but it wasn’t the only potential route to coming back to the American Way of Life.

When the three returning servicemen share a cab home, they go to Homer’s (Howard Russell) place first. They’re crowded into the rear view mirror, with what we’d recognize as inner-ring suburban houses offering a spacious, homey counterpoint to crowding and enclosure.

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Homer, who lost both his arms in the war, returns to a family that, while it’s not always aware of how to help Homer, really wants to help him. The utopian potential for suburbia shows up in establishing shots that put a shine on Homer’s street, giving it a sense of happiness and hope.

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At the other end of the spectrum we find Fred’s place, in a slum in the shadow of highway overpasses. It’s dark, dingy, and crowded – and Fred doesn’t think much of it when he returns:

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Fred struggles to re-integrate into Boone City (Cincinatti, Ohio) society, finding the shift from war hero to order-taking soda fountain worker jarring. In the end, Fred discovers purpose in work building the new suburbs that will spread out from Boone City like the airplanes lined up for recycling (the first image resembles a street of houses, the second a well-establish suburb’s tree canopy):

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In this way, The Best Years of Our Lives is pretty straightforward in its embrace of suburbanization. But the Sergeant, Al Stephenson, represents the appeal and acceptance of urban living. Al returns to his family home in a large, quite nice, apartment building. It’s not Central Park West, but for a middle-American provincial city, it’s plenty good.

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Al should be an asshole – he’s a banker, he lives in a swanky apartment – but he’s a good guy. He’s married to Nora Charles! The Stephenson family place has lots of room, looks expensively appointed, and has enough frippery to let us know that Al is on the high end of the pyramid.

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In the first image, the children who flank the image, directing our gaze to the warm reunion, are key. The Stephensons raised kids in an apartment in the city. When it comes to domestic life, Al has a rough road to getting his shit together, but the kids are pretty alright (if anything, Al is a bit of a jerk about how his kids lead their lives, although he does see reason in the end) and his wife is supportive and perceptive without sinking into sainted suffering. When Al is at work, he approves a loan for a tomato farm on the edge of town for a returning veteran who doesn’t have any collateral (the scene is the humane version of Buck Swope’s humiliation in Boogie Nights (1997, PT Anderson)). That is to say, Al’s third of the story shows that while there’s something exciting and appealing about the suburbs, there is also a lot to recommend the city (even if it puts your kids into contact with possibly unsavoury sorts) and even the country/farm life.

It’s kind of amusing that Tywin Lannister is always cutting up animals in Game of Thrones. There’s the deer-butchering:

and the fishing scene (cut) from season 3:

This is why we get those pedantic scenes of Maester Luwin quizzing Bran about what’s on whose sigil. When it comes to teaching, I hate and love such moments – they’re surface-level touches that, thankfully, reward careful reading of the literal contents of the mise en scene. I love literal engagements with the text – what else is mapping the narrative locations of films but an avowedly literal approach. But I don’t know what to do with these scenes beyond the surface-level. Yes yes there’s the metaphor of butchery and blood on hands and so on and so on – but that’s all on the surface level. It certainly fills in the fictional world, but I don’t know just how much deeper it makes it.

On the other hand, something like Ballad of a Soldier (1959, Grigory Chukhray) throws out images that have somewhat obvious surface-level readings that, on further inspection and contemplation, take us to more interesting places.

There’s a wonderful continuous shot of Alyosha getting chased by a tank that does a now-standard flip (Danny Boyle uses a similar shot at the end of Trainspotting when Renton leaves with the money).

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The obvious disorientation and unsettling of the world emerges from the imagery, but I’d also note the grand absurdity of the scene. A man, on foot, chased by a tank. The tracks that criss-cross the field add to the disorientation, but also act to pull our vision away, however briefly, and in the upside-down framing, this creates something like a fog of war. It’s hard to believe that there’s a tank chasing a soldier on foot – and it is that very incongruity that helps Alyosha to escape. Our difficulty in making sense of the situation and the imagery exists within the narrative world as well.

My favourite image in the film comes when Alyosha is trying to find a ride back to his home town, where he wants to help to fix the roof of the house his mother lives in. Here he is flagging down a ride:

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It may be that I’m more inclined to prefer Soviet cinema to US television, but this image equals the Game of Thrones bits above in its obviousness, but seems to signify much more. Alyosha echoes the power poles. Sure thing. Then again, Ballad of a Soldier takes place during WWII, The Great Patriotic War. That is to say, Alyosha as a member of the military, paired with rural electrification embodies things that are Great and Patriotic. The great works of physical infrastructure – one of the modernization plans – and the great works of human “infrastructure” (structures, I guess) are in concert, building, connecting, and preserving the Soviet Union.

I’m willing to be convinced otherwise – and maybe I’m stacking the deck in my favour by picking an historical example – but to my eyes, this obvious surface-level imagery generates a more complex and interesting reading of the film.

(The USSR’s modernization/industrialization projects weren’t too far behind the US’s: In the US the Rural Electrification Administration was a New Deal deal, established in 1935. It’s not that long ago: both my paternal grandparetns grew up on a non-electrified farms in north central Wisconsin. This post featured a lot of “buts”, I know.)

The UQ School of English, Media Studies and Art History has a Friday lunch get together that features a couple of short talks – 15 minutes or so – and then half an hour of q-and-a. This week’s is called “ARC Lottery Winners.” That is to say, the Australian Research Council grant – and the grant-hunting model in general, so beloved by the managerialism set – is a tax on academia’s poor. Go ahead and apply, contract lecturer; you gotta be in it to win it.

ADDED LATER: Turns out the person in charge of organizing the event was told that it wasn’t cool to call the event “ARC Lottery Winners.” The identity of the ARC lottery winner who felt this way remains to be determined.

In back to back screenings for the Introduction to Film and Television Studies course I’m convening, the students have done something really strange and wondrous.

Last week, after four weeks of nonstop chattering during the screening, they were almost completely silent during The Informant!. Maybe it was the presence of a Movie Star in a film they hadn’t seen. At the end of the film, probably a dozen students applauded. In twelve years of university teaching I’ve never heard applause at the end of a screening.

This week, the first part of the screening was the first episode of The Wire (2002). They were really quiet again. Then, because we had another hour scheduled, I ran one segment from the post-Money in the Bank Raw.

At first, there was a wave of snickering and visible eye-rolling. But as the segment went on, they got quieter and quieter. When the segment ended, with Punk half-dead on the floor behind the announce table, with Lesnar and Heyman hemming him in to the centre-rear of the frame, I hit stop. A chorus of “awwws” from the crowd followed. They wanted to keep watching. That, dear reader, is a money promo in action.