Wednesday, December 23, 2015

retroquotes #577488483002399685858

retro-quotes: a series of germane remarks, by others, plucked from all over the place, and from all over the time 

"If it sounds too new, then tomorrow, it will sound like yesterday"

                                            - Rick Rubin, from this Pitchfork interview

[via sadmanbarty]


But then, if it doesn't sound new enough, "it will sound like yesterday" today, already, from the git-go.... 

Ha, take that Rubin - consider yourself riposted!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Bores

in-depth debt breakdown job on Star Wars by Slate's Forrest Wickman - how Lucas pastiched it into existence

It's often been argued that Star Wars was the death-blow to science fiction as proper speculative fiction - or at least marginalised it severely both in cinema and in books.

Jonathan Lethem makes that argument in a great essay on the lost promise of s.f.  in the Voice Literary Supplement from the late 90s 

"It’s now a commonplace in film criticism that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg together brought to a crashing halt the most progressive and interesting decade in American film since the ’30s. What’s eerie is that the same duo are the villains in SF’s tragedy as well, though you might want to add a third name, J. R. R. Tolkien. The vast popular success of the imagery and archetypes purveyed by those three savants of children’s literature expanded the market for “sci-fi”, a cartoonified, castrated, and deeply nostalgic version of the budding literature, a thousandfold. […] The golden mean of an SF jacket since 1976 looks, well, exactly like the original poster for Star Wars. Men of the future were once again thinking with their swords — excuse me, light sabers."

A death blow dealt by someone who'd  only a few years earlier made of one of the great  (or at least great-looking and great sounding - Walter Murch take a bow) science fiction films - THX 1138

in Wickman's Slate analysis, George Lucas emerges as Tarantino before Tarantino

“I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone so immersed in film. I have an idea he goes to bed in it, wrapped up in it, you know, the actual material.”  — Alec Guinness on George Lucas

Roger Copeland’s When Films ‘Quote’ Films, They Create a New Mythology,” New York times piece of September 1977 piece "identified Star Wars’ debts to The Searchers, dogfighting movies, and Casablanca, and held it up as the most prominent example of a new kind of movie, the “film about other films.” Star Wars was “a film that makes so many references to earlier films and styles of filmmaking that it could just as easily—and perhaps more accurately—have been called ‘Genre Wars.’ ”

                             (J.G. Ballard on Star Wars)

Stars Wars is when pomo goes mass culture - for the first time?

Star Wars is built on top of many things that came before. This film is a compilation of all those dreams, using them as a history to create a new dream.”   — George Lucas, 1975  

So in that sense perhaps the logical next step after the nostalgia-fest of American Graffiti

(as discussed in Retromania) 

"You step into all this weirdness and you find that the scene that you’re doing is similar to scenes you’ve seen before in other movies that you can imagine very easily. There is a scene that’s based on a kind of Western concept. Shooting the guy under the table. There was no mystery to it. It was just a different face on something that was quite familiar.” -   — Harrison Ford  in 2004

And the grand-daddy of fantasy TV set in a never-never-past (Thrones etc)

“I put this little thing on it: ‘A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, an incredible adventure took place.’ Basically it’s a fairy tale now.”    — George Lucas, December 1975  

                      "It'll make you feel like a kid again" - regression as direct and frank sales pitch

Reversing on the 70s advances in cinema that broke with heroic representations of violence and war (The Godfather, Peckinpah to an extent, Coming Home, Apocalypse Now, etc), it's a full-scale return to hero-myth narrative in which violence, when righteous, is glorious and also seemingly without visible consequences -  mess and agony screened out. 

“We cut the end battle scene out of all kinds of old war movies, everything from The Dam Busters and The Battle of Britain to documentaries and Tora! Tora! Tora!
   — George Lucas, January 1976

The End of  (cinematic) History - 
“It should look very familiar but at the same time not be familiar at all.” — George Lucas, 1975

Now in the real-world supposed End of History (Fukyuma) scenario, the alleged Death of Ideology was actually followed all through the 90s and into our present age by the recrudescence of fascisms of every kind - nativist mysticisms of the blood, theocratic warrior-states on the war path, etc etc.... righteous-violence hero-myths a-go-go.  Not the death of ideology but the return of death-dealing human us versus inhuman them ideologies.

Stars Wars reminded me of this book I have been wanting to reread, Norman Spinrad's The Iron Dream - which is set in an alternate-history where failed painter Adolf Hitler moved to America and became a successful illustrator in the burgeoning Astounding Stories era field of science fiction (which involved a fair bunch of just-arrived immigrants) and then goes on to writes novels too - like his best-selling Lord of the Swastika. Meanwhile in the Fuehrer-less Europe, Communism has spread Westwards and swallowed up Germany and as I recall the whole Continent apart from U.K.

One of the problems as I recall with The Iron Dream is that the bulk of it consists of The Lord of the Swastika, which is a all-too-well executed parody of a sword 'n ' sorcery potboiler.

Here's Ursula LeGuin on the novel: 

"Adolf Hitler's Hugo-winning novel of 1954, Lord of the Swastika, presented by Norman Spinrad as The Iron Dream (Avon 1972), is an extraordinary book. Perhaps it deserves the 1973 Hugo, as well. On the back cover Michael Moorcock compares the book with "the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Sir Oswald Mosley.... It is the very quintessence of sword and sorcery." None of the authors mentioned is relevant, except Mosley, but the reference to sword and sorcery is exact. The Iron Dream can be read as a tremendous parody of the subgenre represented by Moorcock's own Runestaff saga, and by Conan the Barbarian, and Brak the Barbarian, and those Gor books, and so on--"heroic fantasy" on the sub-basement level, the writing of which seems to be motivated by a mixture of simple-minded escapism and money-minded cynicism.

Taken as a parody of S&S, the book hits all its targets. There is the Hero, the Alpha Male with his muscles of steel and his clear eyes and his manifest destiny; there are the Hero's Friends; there are the vile, subhuman enemies; there is the Hero's Sword, in this case a truncheon of interesting construction; there are the tests, quests, battles, victories, culminating in a final supernal super-victory of the Superman. There are no women at all, no dirty words, no sex of any kind: the book is a flawless example of clean obscenity. It will pass any censor, except the one that sits within the soul.

A parody of S&S, however, is self-doomed. You cannot exaggerate what is already witlessly exaggerated; you cannot distort for comic effect something that is already distorted out of all reality. All Spinrad can do is equal the crassest kind of S&S; no one could surpass it. But fortunately he has larger game in mind....

The beauty of the thing is the idea of it: a novel by an obscure hack named Hitler. The danger, the risk of it is that that idea is embodied in 255 pages of--inevitably--third-rate prose.

.... But, in this case, does it matter? How can a novel by Adolf Hitler be well-written, complex, interesting? Of course, it can't. It would spoil the bitter joke.

On the other hand, why should one read a book that isn't interesting?...

He has done, in The Iron Dream, something as outrageous as what Borges talks about doing in "Pierre Menard" (the rewriting of Don Quixote, word for word, by a twentieth-century Frenchman): he has attempted a staggeringly bold act of forced, extreme distancing. And distancing, the pulling back from "reality" in order to see it better, is perhaps the essential gesture of SF. It is by distancing that SF achieves aesthetic joy, tragic tension, and moral cogency. It is the latter that Spinrad aims for, and achieves. We are forced, in so far as we can continue to read the book seriously, to think, not about Adolf Hitler and his historic crimes--Hitler is simply the distancing medium--but to think about ourselves: our moral assumptions, our ideas of heroism, our desires to, lead or to be led, our righteous wars. What Spinrad is trying to tell us is that it is happening here.

Here's David Forbes at Airship Daily on The Iron Dream and parallels with Star Wars

"The “gookification” of enemies, in Spinrad's words, drew an ugly connection from the slaughter of faceless Orcs to the willingness of a populace to root for brutal war politics.
In a series of essays throughout the ensuing years, Spinrad expanded on the theme, naming the formula he takes aim at in The Iron Dream as “The Emperor of Everything.”... Spinrad wrote The Iron Dream as exorcism of The Emperor of Everything. He wrote in as blunt terms as possible because you don't cast out demons with subtlety. The prose are intentionally terrible, the language stilted — but all in that pulp-pitch way that keeps the reader going...   As Spinrad explained in his essay, “The Emperor of Everything,” “the reader who has been getting off on this stuff finds himself confronted with the awful revelation that he has been getting off on the racism, military fetishism and inner psychic imagery of the Third Reich itself.” He goes on: “The Emperor of Everything really is Der Fuhrer, suckers, and you have been marching right along behind him.”
"Five years after The Iron Dream’s publication, Star Wars hit the screen — just around the same time that the imitation Tolkien industry ramped its poisonous stranglehold on popular fantasy into a never-ending succession of slaughtering ugly species and the “dark lords” they served....
When The Iron Dream was written, sci-fi remained far more of a niche, if an often influential one. But times changed and the culture changed with them. Star Wars enshrined a version of the space opera pulp into a mainstream cultural juggernaut and spawned imitators. The Tolkien imitators took the themes of epic struggle and handled them with far less empathy and nuance. The “formula for crap” Spinrad highlighted is successful and easy for a reason. It plays to the appealing side of the brutal boy's tale without the “burden” of nuance in works like Dune, which might get their audiences to think, just a bit, about the implications of the fantasies they're embracing."

stop press 12/20/2015

forgot about this great Mark Fisher Guardian piece about Stars Wars from a few years ago  looking at how the film invented the modern format of movie as franchise - sequels, prequels, spin-offs, merchandise etc etc 

portions relevant to the current argument: 

"The arrival of Star Wars signalled the full absorption of the former counterculture into a new mainstream. Like Steven Spielberg, George Lucas was a peer of directors such as Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola...  But Lucas's most famous film was a herald of a coming situation in which mainstream cinema in the America would become increasingly bland, and it would become impossible to imagine films of the quality of The Godfather movies or Taxi Driver ever being made again....

"....Star Wars was a trailblazer for the kind of monumentalist pastiche which has become standard in a homogeneous Hollywood blockbuster culture that, perhaps more than any other film, Star Wars played a role in inventing. The theorist Fredric Jameson cited Star Wars an example of the postmodern nostalgia film: it was a revival of "the Saturday afternoon serial of the Buck Rogers type", which the young could experience as if it was new, while an older audience could satisfy their desire to relive forms familiar from their own youth. 
"All that Star Wars added to the formula was a certain spectacle – the spectacle of technology, via then state-of-the-art special effects and of course the spectacle of its own success, which became part of the experience of the film.While the emphasis on effects became a catastrophe for science fiction, it was a relief for the capitalist culture of which Star Wars became a symbol. Late capitalism can't produce many new ideas any more, but it can reliably deliver technological upgrades."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

the Neofuture

most interesting end-of-year essay at Tiny Mix Tapes about a "Neofuturist Aesthetic" in current music, by Matthew Philips

exemplars being Arca, Lotic, Garden of Delete, Platform, NON Records, M.E.S.H, Rabit & Chino Amobi...

"Neither utopian nor fully dystopian, works in this mode project a complex future contrary to the Futurist and transhumanist ideal, where the human subject places itself in tension with technological progress, seeking liberation in the spaces between the cracks of the monolith of capitalism.

"these artists... posit a counterfuture of resistance, and beyond it a faint glimmer on the horizon: hope."

"This instability, this absence of solidity, suggests a new reading of the future, in which the progressive incursion of technology offers neither predictable consequences nor even the opportunity to decipher successive, novel events"

Literally grating - shredding the human, morcellating voice-flesh

For there is a lot of extreme mouth music in this area - continuing the musique concrete tradition  in which the human voice figures as privileged site of dismemberment and violative reconstruction

"Lotic’s “Banished,” from the late-breaking Agitations.... represents its mutations as a kind of trauma, a forcible binding of the subject into tortuous, impossible forms."

"Amnesia Scanner slice language into grains, and these bursting, liminal bubbles cast off their particular significance into the void of potentiality, reabsorbed and yet separate from the mutant mass of the track. Invading the liminal zone, the synthesis engine has captured these bubble-worlds; in its attempt to assimilate the poetry deeper into the rhythmic mass of the track, it obliterates the language’s value as a world-generating force. What is left is a ghostly relic of meaning, a mute hologram of a subject cut off from its ability to critique and its ability to desire, a subject bound to the mutations of the mass, propelled into the future by a volition other than its own."

"Although the harsh, digital texture of the neofuturist aesthetic is one of its defining elements, the voice plays a surprisingly crucial role in many of the works within it.... The neofuturist aesthetic derives beauty not from the form of technology itself but rather from the struggle of the human being that is fascinated or trapped within that form."

Grating in the other sense, though too - with most of this sort of thing, I'm impressed, but never have much of an inclination to listen to it again

see also: Philip Sherburne on the new formlessness and its relationship to a queering of  electronic sound - Arca, Elysia Crampton, et al

Monday, December 14, 2015

this is "Tomorrow"

a song by Electric Youth

the genre is apparently called synthwave or retrowave or  outrun   - as in being chased, or chasing in a movie scene presumably

[via Lindsay Kerr]

the Eighties has been revived now for longer than the original Eighties lasted (yes i know I said that before, and it was a quip borrowed off someone else too - my friend / writer Rupert Howe, if i recall right!)

but still, this is getting into re-revival territory.....  a revival of a revival   

i mean, it was, what 1997, 1998 when we had i/F "space invaders are smoking grass" and the early Ectomorph and Adult. releases... 

that's 17 years ago

so, like, howzabout trying to "out-run" History, guyz and galz?


but here the musical vector is 90s

like the minimal-but-slamming traxiness (Monolake or adam beyer 'drumcode') being made around the time of Oral-Alio etc  - the tone-not-tune techno that the 80s-back-to-melody movers were reacting against 

stop press: Andrew Briggs chips in to explain that 

" the term Outrun is a reference to the iconic 80s arcade game Out Run"

and opine thusly:

"Don't know how I feel about this genre, it seems like musical fan fiction, the point being to recreate the sonic moment of  80s Jan Hammer et al. and live in it suspended forever. An 80s mixtape recorded to DAT instead of a worn cassette."

while also recommending Rain Sword as "one of the better purveyors"


and point out this example of "Talking Heads retrowaved"

wow, that is actually really pretty - brings out the Naive Melody element

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

retro rhetoric

Hilary Benn's speech was just a shallow historical reenacment, says Spectactor fellow

"It was eloquent, yes, but content-wise it reminded me of those historical re-enactment shebangs where sad men in their fifties try to inject meaning into their lives by pretending to be a Viking in a field for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon.

Only instead of donning archaic armour and a horned helmet, Benn and his overnight Bennites – those currently clogging up Twitter with wild claims that his speech was the best oration since the Gettysburg Address – are wrapping themselves in the moral garb of the mid-20th century warriors against Nazi Germany.

Benn’s speech, and the feverish reaction to it, confirms that British politicians, especially Labourite ones, really, really miss the Second World War. They crave the moral certainty of that conflict that pitted Us against the worst Them imaginable: a vast, murderous system of Nazism.

This is why Benn madly talked about the decision to fire a few rockets at the godforsaken city of Raqqa in the same breath as Britain’s long slog of a war against Hitler and Mussolini. Such a comparison is the height of historical illiteracy....

"But it’s clear why Benn rolled out the Hitler talk, like an elderly, nostalgic lady dusting down her Vera Lynn collection: because in an uncertain, values-lite era like ours – where relativism rules, ‘Britishness’ is treated as a swear word, and ‘Who am I to judge?’ is the cloying cri de coeur – nothing looks more attractive than the sharp moral divide and mass momentum of the events of 1939 – 1945. Benn was indulging in generational envy, bathing temporarily in the light of what our grandfathers thought and did.

But his act was unconvincing. There was a striking disparity between his descriptions of what British forces must do against Isis now and his citing of the war glories of the past. British missiles in Syria can ‘make a difference’, he said; we can give Isis ‘a hard time’. Scary stuff!

Try to imagine Churchill uttering such soft, schoolteacher-style platitudes during the war with Germany. Where’s the talk of blood? Sacrifice? Victory?" 

What's interesting to me - regardless of pro and con of the piece's argument - is how the use of retro-as-pejorative as become a standard fixture of political debate in the UK. The metaphor of Corbynism as an 80s tribute act is well-worn at this point. People on either side fire back accusations of being a revival, a throwback, a replay,  reenactment....

It's a week now and I have still been unable to bring myself to listen / watch Benn's speech.

I'm in the bombing-not-a-good-idea camp as you'd probably expect, but I'm also exceedingly sway-able by oratory, vulnerable to it.

Churchill's wartime speeches can bring a tear to the eye, even just read cold off the page. That sort of cadence seems to tug at the atavistic, the tribal. (In that case  Churchill was correct both morally-philosophically and in terms of geopolitical realpolitik - the survival of Britain as a sovereign state - not to mention Civilisation - but he was also deploying word-magic and oratorical rhythms in a way that bypasses rational argument - in this case a totally righteous use of those means, but they can be used just as easily for different ends).

Fascinated, if remotely and second-hand, by the drama of the speech and around the speech. Several elements here:

The stab in the back  - well, not in the back at all, but right in the front, in plain public view of all - of the man who had been mentored by his father, with whom JC had been as he put it  "very very close"  - so perhaps an element even of sibling rivalry there

The rising up and throwing off the weight of his father's towering reputation, becoming his own man, ideologically

The element of surprise -  nobody expected this, he hasn't had a particularly dramatic or publicly visible career so far

The high stakes nature of the gamble - everyone lauding him for rising to the historical moment, but given the likelihood of all it getting quagmire-y in Syria, this could end up being  not the audition to be Prime Minister one day, but the dooming of any such ambitions.