Monday, November 17, 2008

Dont Look Back

D.A. Pennebaker's Dont Look Back is supposed to be a seminal film. I didn't find it to be. It was certainly an intimate look at Bob Dylan during his tumultuous early years. But almost too much like Dylan's music and lyrics, the film lacked a sense of direction, a sense of purpose. It was all put out there for everyone to judge, but I don't think enough of the story was shown for anyone to make any sort of interesting conclusions.

The film shows equal amounts concert performances and backstage action. The performances are captivating; the power Dylan holds with a single guitar and his words over thousands of people is remarkable. The backstage action is less remarkable -- there are the expected squabbles, the self-isolating superstar, the posse, the bad-haircut manager, the ignored girlfriend.

But through all of this, you only get a few moments where you see the disaffected Bob Dylan, the youth who sought fame through his music, who obtained it, and who didn't know what the hell to do with it. His music of this period might portray a folk poet who is outspoken with his lyrics, yet softspoken with his delivery. But offstage, he's a jittery mess: aimless, confused, seeking respite from all the attention yet still thriving on that attention.

A few scenes stuck out in my mind. There was a drawn-out section where Joan Baez was playing guitar and singing. She was sitting right behind Dylan, who was at a desk with a typewriter. I thought that she was singing rather loudly, but Dylan didn't seem to pay attention. Frankly, it would have bothered me if someone was doing that while I was trying to write, but Dylan would have a pregnant pause, then start pecking away at the keys again. I think this was a telling moment -- one that showed their relationship almost outright: Baez was so close to things, but Dylan couldn't pay attention, absorbed in his own world of things.

Another fiery moment comes when someone breaks a glass during one of Dylan's performances (I think the glass might have been onstage or somewhere where he could see it). After the show, Dylan is going off on some dude, just yelling and yelling about how he didn't want someone to get hurt by the glass. He seemed really highstrung, but he never seemed to get out of hand -- only pushing people slightly on the shoulder and calling people "cats." Ahh, the sixties.

There was a moment in a hotel room where one of Dylan's entourage plays a song and sings for everyone. There's a hush, and Dylan says "That's a great song." He proceeds to take the guitar and essentially try to show up the guy. It's a toss-up of who wins this showdown, but everyone in the film quietly acknowledges Dylan's presence throughout both backstage performances.

And the scene that stuck out to me the most came where Dylan was lecturing a reporter from Time on how absurd magazine journalism was. On how, if he wanted to know the state of things, he would never look towards Time or Newsweek because the people who write for them are cowards. How he would just look around at the world. And if those magazines would just print something real and true to life, Dylan would respect them more. (When asked what sort of real thing should be shown, Dylan is caught off guard and mentions something about a "tramp vomiting.") He says that he's not a folk singer, but when asked why not, he refuses to explain it to the reporter because he knows the reporter wouldn't understand. He says that he knows everything about the reporter and understands him completely just by looking at him, and the reporter would never fully understand Dylan no matter how long he tried. He says that nothing the reporter says or writes will affect Dylan, and he surmises that nothing he says can affect the reporter.

Yet throughout the whole film, you see a Dylan buried in newspapers, reading quotes outloud, and playing off his reactions as being mock offended. "Give the anarchist a cigarette!" But it really does touch him and you can tell. He's a young, fresh-faced artist with still no signs of wear, but every quote he reads, and every piece of information he eagerly receives about his competitor, Donovan, he soaks up and it becomes a part of him. It's absorbed into his world, and it starts to take a toll. No wonder he went electric right after this (you get a little hint of this when Dylan talks to some guys he meets on tour -- they're in an electric guitar band): he likes being the center of the media's attention, and being antagonistic.

This film has obvious influences on others, and what first springs to mind is Jeff Tweedy's Sunken Treasure: Live in the Pacific Northwest. The difference here is that Tweedy talks directly to the camera as if someone is interviewing him, but with Dylan, it really is a fly-on-the-wall approach, although you have to wonder how much of what happened was the result of knowing that he was on camera. It's not a bad film, especially if you're interested in Dylan lore (this is definitely a staple of that lore). But if you're not a fan of the music, you probably won't be a fan of the movie. Well, who knows. This was sort of like reality television forty years before. Maybe that'll appeal to people.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blogging about blogging and other postmodern meta ontological quandaries

If you kept reading past the title of this post, you are to be congratulated on your determination to learn, though you may not learn anything about any of those specialized terms there (mainly because I don't know too much about them myself).

I recently bought an issue of Wired because it had pretty pictures and it has that nice feel on the cover. And I wanted to be hip. But every Wired article I've ever read in the magazine can be found online. So I'm hip enough to read it in the magazine, but not online.

And now, I'm losing hip points by blogging about it. Because the first article in the current issue is on how blogging is a thing of the past -- its shining star has faded. It's been commercialized. It's lost its face.

Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004

Besides the fact that I enjoy using services that work perfectly well for me (which is why I've stuck with T-Mobile for six years; I redesigned my Blogger blog, [Post]Modern College Life, instead of converting to the sleek Wordpress format; and I will continue to purchase Britt Daniel's music until kingdom come), I have some other qualms about Paul Boutin's urgings. Just because businesses have manhandled the blog format to conduct their own business on the web (with teams of writers spewing out 30 posts a day) doesn't mean that normal people should stop blogging. Because people blogging about issues are going to reach a different network of readers than the big business blogs do. It's just like magazine production -- big businesses (Time, Newsweek, US Weekly) are going to reach their audience, and so are city magazines (Tallahassee, Phoenix) and even smaller, local magazines. Because people don't turn to the New Yorker to see what's happening in their local environment.

Sure, there will be overlap. Amateur entertainment reviewers (games, tv, movies, music, art) will certainly be eclipsed by devoted blogs. But the cool thing about blogs: you can write about anything. Unless you're trying to start a blogging career (which would probably work best by attaching yourself to one of those mainstream blogs that Boutin wrote about), you don't have to fit a format, and you don't have to write about things that don't interest you.

I blog for leisure and assume that no one reads any of my words. This might be dangerous in terms of revealing too much personal information, but that's something that I don't really care about at this time. I honestly think that encouraging average people to sit down for about 15 minutes and compose a post (however sloppily) can only help their focus, their thoughts, their writing. I don't see any detriments to blogging (outside of being "unhip"). Of course it might "waste your time." But if you spend hours on end blogging instead of doing your job or going to classes or studying for classes, shouldn't you reexamine your life and perhaps reconsider what it is that you really want to do? If you enjoy blogging, do it, maybe even full time (though, because the internet has made news instant, you won't get much sleep). If you don't blog, please give it a try. But no matter what, don't slog at people who do.

I must get around to another point. I was searching for this Wired article so I could blog about it, and the highest relevant search return was for another unhip blogger blogging about the blogging article, WIRED: Don't Blog Anymore -- Wait...What Was That?!?. I found what I wanted to in 5 seconds of Googling, as opposed to going to and wading through ads and dicking around on the site for a few minutes until I found the article that I wanted. Imagine that. Another benefit to grassroots blogging. Blogging making life easier in searches.

This Wired is the first thing in a while that has made me want to post on this blog. For me, it had the opposite of its desired effect on readers. I've been off and on with this thing for four years, but I keep it around because I want an outlet that I rule where I can spout off any belief I have, or reveal any information I find without fear of censure or harassment (outside of occasional blogging bots) or death. Yes, people still die for their beliefs in this day and age. And if I were in a less accommodating country with stricter laws about what can and what cannot be voiced, I might be up for trial for some of the things I've written about (or what I might have written about under that type of control). The right to the written word is not a God-given right: human language is not absolutely innate because if you're not exposed to speech or to a writing system, you don't learn it. If raised in the wilderness, by wolves perhaps (it has happened), you may learn a rudimentary system of body language, but nothing to match the complexity of human language. It's a phenomenon, and it's a gift. So use it. And wisely.

(By the way. Have you heard of Kindle? I think we should get rid of books.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Racial issues STILL at play.

Last night after the reality set in, Karl Rove was on Fox News talking about how race is no longer a factor in America. How older generations who lived through the '40s and '50s might still see race in different terms, but today's youth, this new generation, is blind to race. And now, the biggest headline in the world is:

"OBAMA: Racial Barrier Falls as Voters Embrace Call for Change"

I thought this might be coming.

A victory for Barack Obama is certainly a victory for breaking race barriers. However, racial tensions DO NOT disappear in one generation -- who do you think was raising the youth of today? Space aliens?

The Republicans will cry out that racism is dead, we are in to the age of acceptance, while they continue to dominate politics and the wealthy sector of America. Affirmative Action is still a very important issue as we try to enroll men and women who, fifty years ago, could not use the same toilet as white men and women, much less sit in the same classrooms or read the same books. People who, for the first half of this country's existence, were by and large seen as buffoons and baboons in cultural affairs, even as white America looked favorably on (and even sometimes adopted) aspects of black culture, such as blues and jazz.

Race is not dead. We are not a colorblind America. People will still self-segregate to a point, and others will view them as one section of society. The two places I've lived show this. Anyone who lives in Melbourne has heard to avoid University Boulevard and the surrounding area, especially at night and on weekends. In Tallahassee, people warn against venturing into Frenchtown after hours. For better or worse, blacks are still sectioning off, and whites are still discriminating against them.

As other news networks put it, this is indeed a milestone for race relations, but it is only another small peak in an overall uphill battle. Be careful not to label racism where it does not exist, but also take care not to dismiss the issue altogether.