Music Journalism

Post have slowed again, what with valuable time now (again) taken up with work and adjustment to life abroad. Still seem to have time to argue with people on music forums, however. So here's me contributing to dissensus on the perennial topic of why music journalism sucks in the year 2000 and above, riffing on point 3 of mnml msgs's soufflé post from last year:

What concerns me is what the logical end point would be if the only two options a critic has is positivity and silence. Those hoping that the dull and derivative will just sink due to lack of exposure are misguided, I think. A piece of music (because of subjectivity, ignorance) will always find support from SOMEWHERE, and if you are prevented from being negative about it, the basic POINT of criticism (shielding your ears, and formerly your wallet, from trash) disintegrates. The listener / consumer will just be flooded with messages telling you everything is awesome. Debate dies, or gets outsourced to blogs and message boards, where standards are less than professional [no intended slight on dissensus, should add!]

I think why you hate a record is potentially just as interesting as why you love it. Because one reason I read music journalism is for a sensitive insight into the way music affects ppl. I think that's what is missing from the very technical or contextual focus of a lot of criticism now (describing the track, influences). That stuff is useful and interesting, but doesn't quite capture the vital aspect of criticism, which is providing examples of people's aesthetic response in the things around them.


Bleak House

I have watched the BBC adaptation, back when it was out, and I remember enjoying it. The scene between Lady Deadlock and Esther Summerson on the grounds of Chesney Wold still sticks in my memory, but little else does (my memory is a very imperfect instrument). Happily, this meant I got more out of reading the book – the chase sequence at the end was a thrill since I couldn't remember how it ended.

Nevertheless, cannot escape the conclusion (formed early in my life) that Dickens isn't really for me. I'm not the sort that finds the caricatures (Skimpole, Mrs. Jellyby) particularly funny – they strikes me as shallow (more hints of knowingness on Skimpole's part would have been good), and the repeated catchphrases kept getting on my nerves (a bit Little Britain in that respect). This stuff became so repetitive it just stopped being interesting, I kept wanting to get back to Esther, Charley, Caddy and the mystery of Lady Dedlock.

Satire is exaggeration for comedy, and Dickens contrasts it with another kind of exaggeration, towards the ideal. I'm a real sucker for this kind of Romanticism. But actually, what's great about Esther is that her humility looks almost like a neurosis, and is thus lightly, ever so gently, mocked. There is a kind of balance to the character. As for Mr Jarndyce, perhaps Nabokov is right and he is "the best and kindest man ever to appear in a novel" – sacrificing his own personal (and sexual) desires for the good of those he loves. There is a kind of balance there as well, between temptation and self-denial.

And I guess what I mean by "balance" is... depth.

Undeniably, certain chapters in the novel build to very moving illustrations of fortitude amidst poverty, which make slogging through every session with Skimpole worthwhile. Also undeniable the skill necessary to so intricately (if implausibly) interweave these various plot lines and character arcs into a satisfying whole. If the plot of Bleak House could be visualized, it wouldn't be linear so much as a web. Which is why adapting it into a soapy TV series makes so much sense. It would also provide the opportunity to cut out a lot of the repetition. A bit like with Jane Eyre, (and The Lord of the Rings, for that matter) I'm left with the impression that the adaptation (what I remember of it) matches the original.


The Artist

Was on a long-haul flight yesterday, and my headset didn't have sound in one ear. Instead of asking for a replacement, I decided to finally watch The Artist, a (near) silent movie which lorded over everything else at the Oscars this year.

I imagine the internet has provided tons of exegesis already, which I haven't read. I knew enough about the film to not be particularly interested in seeing it when it was out – it was about the fall / rise of two kinds of film technology and acting methods, and it was good. I preferred to spend my cinema money where the set-up appealed more (Cronenberg doing Freud!) and quality was disputed (Diablo Cody doing anything), thus maximizing the possibility of uncovering underrated movies to champion (Jane Eyre, Thor) and buttressing my self-image as a discerning viewer who stands apart / opposed to the consensus. What, that's not why you watch films?

The Artist is good, turns out. Two things I noticed (and right now I should come out and say I have NO experience with silent cinema). The first is that (unlike some) I did think it gave you some idea of what telling a story w/o sound looks like. Everything is pushed out more: acting, framing, visual symbols all arch and in-your-face. This got me thinking about Mark Kermode's 3D concession on Hugo (another movie about the history of movies) as effective because it works to alienate the audience from the action (he has a posher term for this, something to do with Brecht). Does The Artist also aim to do this by being a silent movie? How far does suspension of disbelief go in such a medium? Is immersion within the story ever completely achieved in a world where people talk thru intertitles? In certain moments, I think. Immersion / estrangement in a constant tussle while I was watching. Perhaps I'm just bad at multi-tasking.

Speaking of arch symbols, my fave is a shot where the shadow of a teardrop falls across Valentin's face. Which gets at the second thing I noticed – Valentin's talent as a silent film star, and struggle with the talkies, used as a metaphor for silent stoic male pride assaulted by the selfless feminine. Trust me to bring gender into everything, but I wonder if the rise of Peppy Miller nods towards the history of female empowerment in the 20th century. Not a theme you can really bang on about, in light of the male gaze still dominating the reproduction of images of women. But Hazanavicius may have had it in mind. Anyway, I thought Valentin's character was actually quite complex and interesting – a guy who has to learn to operate in a context where showmanship is being replaced with real feeling, in the arts and in relationships.