The capacity to scare, along with the capacity to make us laugh, is an aspect of a work that’s particularly vulnerable to the passage of time. So it was a real pleasure (of sorts) to experience these very different works in the same stretch of weeks and find that both of them gave me the creeps. Carnival of Souls might be more effective as a piece of horror than any other B-movie I can remember—low-budget, a little obvious, and still possessed of an undeniable, proto-Lynchian menace.
The Cage, meanwhile, doesn’t read like the antecedent of anything, at least for me. Even when approached as a comic, it quickly establishes its own terms. Composed of a series of spreads featuring artifacts of humanity (beds, barbed wire, telephones) but no humans and accompanied by semi-narrative captions, the book is an unsettling work of sustained implication: implied violence, even implied extinction. I imagine The Cage rewards repeat engagement; I can’t imagine it ever provides many answers.
Sometimes when modes/genres/sensibilities become too codified, they curdle, and so it is with Irish gallows humor and this movie. The Sligo of Calvary is full of strong personalities but few characters that register as multidimensional—the film’s just a little overbaked. I’m eating lunch, can you tell? Brendan Gleeson is a talented actor with an amazing natural gift, a face that instantly conveys pain, tenderness, thoughtfulness, humanity. He has been better served in similar projects.
In Bruges > Calvary > The Guard. Martin is still the best McDonagh brother.
One thing I really liked about Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is how much it gives you to talk about—lots and lots of different pathways. I tried to go down as many as possible over at HTMLGIANT:
1. Boyhood resists most attempts to analyze it outside the circumstances of its creation. Richard Linklater has filmed a group of actors every year or so for more than a decade, collecting episodes that tell the story of a young boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), and his family. The success (and the complications) of this approach and the events depicted on-screen compete for our attention, inasmuch as we can separate them. There’s no easy engaging with Boyhood purely on the level of plot and character.
6. Boyhood really only becomes a film about boyhood after an hour or so. Until that point, the film’s attention belongs to Mason’s family as a unit. Of course, many young children spend more time with their siblings and/or parents than older children do. But I missed the focus on Mason’s larger family once it was gone. A curious viewer might wonder when and how Linklater decided on the boy as his subject, when he decided on his film’s title, etc.—again, even matters of plot will likely lead the curious viewer back to thinking about the film’s production. The conceit is inescapable.
7. A curious viewer might also wonder if Linklater merely felt more comfortable telling the story of a young, male aspiring artist than he did telling a more holistic family story—or if he worried that audiences wouldn’t turn out in the same numbers for a similar movie about a young girl.
8. Patricia Arquette in particular has an arc that’s an arc as legible as Mason’s and arguably more compelling. Linklater never abandons Arquette’s character as she navigates higher education and single motherhood, but it’s a real sadness that the movie becomes more conventional in its focus as it goes on. We can see other films within this one, and that sense of possibility is bittersweet.
Recently at The Comics Journal: “It Was a Complete Revolution for Me” - A Conversation with Jules Feiffer
I talked with Jules Feiffer, a legit living legend, over at TCJ.com. For those who care, yes, this is the second interview in a row that mentions Red Harvest.
Some lines in Kill My Mother are note-perfect in recreating the feel of noir—when Hammond says, “Any hour, I’m here, you’ll find me. Drinking my lunch,” for instance. Is there one writer you hold as the gold standard for these sorts of lines?
The guy who began it all was [Dashiell] Hammett. And it was his short stories about a private detective, the Continental Op. Those stories were the ones that so fascinated me and excited me. They were short, they were pithy, they were tough. Out of that came Red Harvest  and other wonderful Hammett books. But Chandler was up there also—Chandler’s way of … not so much storytelling, but his way with words and his allusions. The Big Sleep  is a remarkable piece of work. I love Chandler’s short stories also. The other writers that other people like, like John MacDonald, never meant anything to me. They never did a thing for me.
Practical question about allegories: Do we measure them by the number of minds they change? The raw potential to change someone’s mind? Or is it sufficient for an allegory to dramatize a situation in the tell-it-slant sorta way? Mr. Freedom, Klein’s late-sixties black comedy about American imperialism, has pretty amazing costuming and set design, as well as a heavy smugness clouding it. At the peak of US involvement in Vietnam, maybe films like this provided a release for people, and that was enough—but I can’t imagine it converted many people to the antiwar cause.
I’d like to tug at one of the notions in your book. Specifically, can we overstate the importance of a transition to a comics culture that includes the graphic novel? Since most young cartoonists still publish mini-comics or single-issue comics before moving onto larger volumes of work. Publishing in the graphic novel form can be as much a matter of resources and profile as it is an aesthetic choice. I think the graphic novel does come hand in hand with a greater respectability for comics, but is the shift in form as substantial as the shift in perception?
I think the shift in form—you’re completely right, that there’s all sorts of ways, web comics and other things, to get your work out as a comic artist that really have nothing to do with the graphic novel. But at the same time, when Chester Brown was publishing Yummy Fur, there was really a robust culture of independent floppies. So you could go out and you could count on selling quite a few issues. I think he lived on his comic books for a while, and I think it’s very hard for most people to do that at this point.
So I think that’s it. It’s not that that a culture [of independent floppies] doesn’t exist; it’s not that you can’t use it, as a comic artist, as a testing ground; that you can’t do some really amazing things with it. It’s just that it no longer has the kind of prominence—it’s not a kind of necessary step that everybody goes through. And it’s also not something that—I think it’s less likely to lead naturally do the graphic novel than it used to be. A lot of people publish first as a graphic novel, but of course that has a lot to do with finding the right editor and things. And then a lot of people who publish comic books just never get to that point.
Detrimental Information collects entries in the Holden brothers’ zine of the same name, spanning 2001 to the present. The book is perhaps best read in installments—readers will encounter enough anuses and severed limbs to derail a sustained read. Even so,Detrimental Information’s segments have an undeniable cumulative power. Taken together, they form an unsettling portrait of Catholic boyhood and a life beyond it.