Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

 

Sing Unburied Sing

A year and a half ago I read Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner and found within it one of my favorite passages of all time:

Quentin had grown up with that; the mere names were interchangeable and almost myriad. His childhood was full of them; his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was not a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth. He was a barracks filled with stubborn back-looking ghosts still recovering, even forty-three years afterward, from the fever which had cured the disease, waking from the fever without even knowing that it had been the fever itself which they had fought against and not the sickness, looking with stubborn recalcitrance backward beyond the fever and into the disease with actual regret, weak from the fever yet free of the disease and not even aware that the freedom was that of impotence.

The passage is about a young man growing up in the Reconstruction South where everybody was still obsessed with their “lost cause” and the lengths they went to in an effort to retain their right to own other people. The “back-looking ghosts” are an amazing image for that desire to return over and over again to a battle that was already fought and rightfully lost, and that Quentin is literally constructed as a place to hold these ghosts in the logic of the sentence is something that has stuck with me and will continue to do so. It changed the way I think about ghost stories, the Civil War, the American South, the passage of time, and race. I guess I have been looking for a story that would strike me as much as this one part of a paragraph did.

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Peaceful Thinking: Avengers: Infinity War and Criticism

Infinity War 4

Peaceful Thinking is what I’ll call things that aren’t reviews. This isn’t a review.

It’s almost impossible to write about Avengers: Infinity War. I know, I’ve read plenty about it. Practically every review or think-piece misses some essential part of the film’s composition. Some writers seem upset that they had less of an understanding of what’s going on than they normally do, as characters are barely introduced nor are their powers or importance explained. Others argue that it’s barely a movie, more like a series of setpieces with hardly any character development taking place within or between the explosions and fights. Still others claim that there are no stakes to the film thanks to its very comic book nature and the things that we know comic books do (namely: have something happen, then reverse or retcon that happening issues later). While each of these have a core of truth, I’d suggest that none of them constitute a criticism of any value, at least for a certain kind of viewer.

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Back Catalog Review: Blow-Up

Blow Up 1

The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all of the films I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films.

Movies are all, in one way or another, about looking. Even experimental stuff like Stan Brakhage’s Mothlight is about looking and seeing. But movies about photographers are perhaps the kind most likely to bring looking to the forefront of the movie-watching experience. The photographer protagonist will have an eye out for compelling compositions and the film camera will often emulate those compositions so that the film audience can experience some version of the act of photographing that the protagonist is partaking in. Movies about musicians have to go to great lengths to make you feel like you have an understanding of what it means to write or play music, but with a simple camera placement and a meaningful cut, audiences can be transported into the mind (or at least the eye) of the on-screen photographer. That ease of experiential transference makes movies about photographers particularly suited to the study of looking. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up (1966) is one such film, a beautiful movie about what happens when you look too closely.

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Movie Review: A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

I’ve been reading a really great book (Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film by Adam Lowenstein) about allegorical horror and its ability to address historical situations in ways that other genres find more difficult. I’ve realized that this subgenre is one that really hits my buttons with movies like Onibaba and mother! scattered around my lists of favorite films, horror and otherwise. A Quiet Place is not one of those films, at least not as far as I can tell. There’s no national trauma that this seems to be calling to mind, nor is it engaging in a conversation with other films that do so. And yet, it’s my new favorite movie of the year so far because it’s so damn good at the very basics of the horror genre (it’s scary af) and it has a thematic concern that resonates beyond the thrills on offer.

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Back Catalog Review: Full Metal Jacket

Full Metal Jacket 1

The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all of the films I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films.

About 2/3rds of the way through Full Metal Jacket I started to think about Paths of Glory. It’s not surprising, both are war films that are critical of war in some ways, and both are directed by Stanley Kubrick. Pretty obvious. I was struck, however, at how differently the two movies see war. This isn’t a case of a director making the same point in a different era. In fact, Kubrick conceptualizes the two wars (WWI for Paths, Vietnam for Full) almost completely differently. In Paths of Glory, his ire is aimed at the higher ups, the generals who rigidly stick to antiquated notions of what a war is and put the footsoldiers into harms way without a care for their humanity. In Full Metal Jacket, that inhumanity infects everybody. Sure, the generals are idiots for getting America into the mire and not doing anything to get us out or change anything, but now the grunts aren’t noble sacrifices to the gods of war, they see themselves as those gods personified. They willingly absolve themselves of their morals in order to fuck and kill their way through a foreign country and its people. Kubrick doesn’t have his characters call Vietnam and the warzones within it “the shit” for verisimilitude, he does it because he sees the US military as covered in the stuff, full of it, or even composed of it.

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