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Upstream Color

Mar 29, 2016
What Happens Let me first attempt to explain the plot of Upstream Color, Shane Carruth’s second film. An entrepreneur has discovered that the worms who live in a certain orchid’s root matter have psychogenic properties. In particular, if ingested they induce a hypnotic state in which the subject is amenable to all suggestion. Teens are used for pharmacological testing, in apparent violation of many FDA regulations. The drug is manufactured first in pill form and distributed by the entrepreneur (referred to in the credits merely as “Thief”) in a night club, though the film does not reveal any flunitrazepam-like use.


Nov 14, 2014
It takes me a while to get to the latest films nowadays. I thus missed out on a lot of the excitement generated by Snowpiercer. The lively premise is that an ever-running train circumnavigates a world frozen by atmospheric particulates. These were dispersed into the sky to mitigate global warming. Consequences were not anticipated, and apparently all other life has become extinct.1 The train was built by an excellent man, a man of vision.

Film Studies Co-Citation Network

Sep 15, 2013
I’ve created several new co-citation graphs recently. While I enjoy looking at the visualizations, I haven’t yet analyzed any of them thoroughly. The film studies network was intriguing to me for several reasons, and I’m going to explore it now in more detail. I downloaded just over 12K articles from various film studies journals in Web of Science. The journals are Sight and Sound; Film Comment; Literature/Film Quarterly; American Film; Cinema Journal; Screen; Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television; Journal of Popular Film & Television; Wide Angle; Film Quarterly; Journal of Film and Video; Film Criticism; and Quarterly Review of Film & Video.

The Cabin in the Woods

Sep 20, 2012
In 2004, the first year I had cable television in a very long time, I watched a Labor Day West Wing marathon on Bravo pretty much the whole day. I like to think that I loathed Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue before it was fashionable, and, among the host of platitudinous shitheels and dim-witted cynicules on display, Bradley Whitford’s insufferability was truly distinguished. (Veep is almost a perfect antidote for the West Wing-style treacle, but I think the characters remain too sympathetic.

Inception (2010)

Aug 10, 2010
What can be now be said about Inception? I have a serious interpretive problem with films of this type, where there are significant commercial considerations impeding upon what might be the narrative aspirations of the director, considerations absent from Shane Carruth’s Primer, for instance, or even one of the Buñuel films that some reviewer mentioned (perhaps it was Denby in the New Yorker; I don’t remember). Anyway, my problem is that I don’t know how seriously to take the construction of the plot.

Mulholland Drive A Glance

Dec 17, 2009
Once you know the cancelled pilot backstory, it’s hard to deny the narrative logic of transformative fantasy; but what complicates matters, for me at least, is that the dinner party scene and the rest of the putatively real content shows a Camilla so cruel that the viewer is tempted to forgive contract murder. More likely is that the “real” content of the film originates with a fantasy of the waitress called Diane truly and Betty falsely, and her failed affair with the woman she switches apartments with.

Um so schlimmer für die Tatsachen

Nov 16, 2009
Ernst Bloch’s first wife owned gold mines in Russia: “I used to say that I paid 30 million marks for the Russian Revolution, but that it was worth the price to me!” There’s something very cheerful about that remark, which was made in 1974 or so (note the “used to.”) I’m teaching selections from The Principle of Hope this week in my utopia and modernism seminar. Like many of Bloch’s readers, I’m fascinated by his discussion of the relation between ideology and utopia, that the former could produce only crudities without the inherent anticipatory illumination (”Vor-Schein”) of the latter.

Cronenberg's Naked Lunch

Dec 26, 2008
What is there to say about the writing machines? According to the IMDB trivia page, Cronenberg wrote the script to this movie while he was playing a character (a psychiatrist, as I remember) in a Clive Barker film who would put on a mask and slaughter entire hotels because the mask told him to. The trivia page also mentions that he wrote it on a Toshiba laptop, which would have been suitably monstrous at the time.

Burn after Reading

Dec 24, 2008
Clancy and I just watched this now, and I’ve had a chance to scan over a couple of the reviews. Ebert’s is surprisingly sloppy; several people do pronounce “Chigurh” in No Country for Old Men, and Woody Harrelson’s character is the only one who knows how to say it correctly. I mentioned to Clancy while we were watching it that the Coen brothers excelled in the poetics of everyday stupidity; “knucklehead” seems to be their favorite description of characters, for example.

Two Observations

Sep 8, 2008
The Departed is the worst Oscar Best Picture Winner I’ve ever seen, by a considerable margin. (There are many, needless to say, that I haven’t, but still.) I scanned the reviews in IMDB, and they were all, with the possible exception of Hoberman, very wrong. I accepted the PS3 challenge. It came with a game called Metal Gear Solid 4. When I heard the Lady Octopus’s origin story (she was victimized for living in a Scandinavian village where, “unlike the rest of Europe,” villagers enjoyed eating octopus), I realized that much more was lost in translation than I had suspected.

On No Country for Old Men, A Film by Joel and Ethan Coen

Feb 20, 2008
Moss, Wells, and Chigurh* are all products of Vietnam in the novel. Their experience is contrasted with the Sheriff’s in the Second World War, and McCarthy’s not foolish enough to portray the former as a loss of innocence. In the film, Ed Tom does not confess his lack of heroism, nor does he mention being in the war at all, as far as I can remember. Wells has appeared to adapt to the prevailing norms, with his talk of being a day trader and his apparent pragmatism; but, in the novel, it is Chigurh who has become the model corporate citizen–efficient, principled, and dedicated.

Let's Say

Nov 21, 2007
That I’m not surprised: Sensing trouble was afoot, Lynch told the students: “I don’t know what he said, but I think I understand that he used a word from the Third Reich. Let’s just look at it this way, it’s a new world now.” I’m drafting a paper, in between several other projects at the moment, on Lynch’s levels of existence and social class in Inland Empire, and this recent swerve into what I’m going to assume is traditionalism (see Mark Sedgwick’s Against the Modern World) is in fact preordained–or, at least, predictable.

Zhmurki (2005)

Oct 12, 2007
I watched this sparkler last night, perhaps on some half-remembered reference from a David Remnick column, I don’t know. Gussie Fink-Nottle, and Karloff, two aspiring goons, misadventure, and eventually stake some heroin legit to Moscow Centre for currency speculation. I believe a nationalist line might be inferred from the kino, with the casual brutality and racism the object lesson of the classroom in the beginning, etc.

Nancy Olsen

Sep 12, 2007
Clancy and I watched Sunset Blvd. a few nights ago, and I wondered then why Miss Olsen didn’t have the career for which she was obviously suited. I own several volumes of Hollywood Babylon, and she checks out clean. (That’s from memory. I could be wrong.) She could have played Galadriel in the film version of The Lord of the Rings Wilder was rumored to have wanted to direct in 1959 with exquisite refinement and catoptromantic pluck.

I N L A N D  E M P I R E And Finance Capitalism

Sep 4, 2007
I only saw it last week. Circumstances permitted a discussion with film scholar Chuck Tryon over the weekend, and I told him that I was overwhelmed by the film in divers ways. In particular, Poland. I’ve been reading reviews, and the one cogent comment on that aspect seems to be from Carina Chocano’s LA Times piece: “A lament for Hollywood production jobs lost to Eastern Europe?“ Also, “Black Tambourine” was apt in a way that “The Hexx,” for example, would not have been.

Diotima's Dance to the Sea

Aug 9, 2007
I plan to teach a seminar on the interwar apocalypse, broadly considered, in the spring, and, while there’s much to choose from, I’m leaning toward showing at least a clip from one of the Bergfilme. Riefenstahl’s maenadic turn seems to be the most representative. I’m also interested in relating the mountain-cult to the scholarship associating human behavior with climatic differences.

Stinking of the Lamp

Jun 10, 2007
I’m sure others have noticed this, but Ted Tally’s screenplay for The Silence of the Lambs (on this morning on the SF channel) mucks up Thomas Harris’s reference to the phrase “stinks of the lamp,” apparently having Lecter apply it to Clarice’s father working in a mine with a headlamp, I suppose, rather than, as in the book, having Lecter call her use of a subjunctive tense pretentious.

A Proud Moment for the American Dental Association

May 30, 2007
Mr. Krongard even recalls receiving a proposal for help with questioning Qaeda suspects from an American dentist who said he “could create pain no human being could withstand.” From the NYT. I thought of Marathon Man, of course, as, I’m sure, did we all.

Orson Welles in Malpertuis, A Film by Harry Kümel

May 26, 2007
No, I haven’t seen it. But Welles, in 1971, clearly fit the part of the gastronome Abbe Doucedame, as those of you who’ve read Ray’s lurid tale will know. (The credits seem to imply that Welles played the part of Cassave, but I will not take the trouble to deny this calumny.) Freud’s lamprey, a poltergeist in an old pond. That some Danes believed that flight could be attained by eating the hearts of seven or twelve fetuses cut from the womb.

Essay on Primer

May 4, 2007
I have an essay on Shane Carruth’s Primer in the recently published Playing the Universe: Games and Gaming in Science Fiction (Eds. Dave Mead and Pawel Frelik, Marii Curie-Sklodowskiej UP, 2007). Here is a draft version. When I wrote this essay in October 2005, I believe that no academic articles on the film had been in print yet. I’m not sure that this is still the case, though I’d welcome suggestions.

Missed Our Local Inland Empire Screening

Mar 22, 2007
I see, so I’ll have to wait until next month and drive to Williamsburg to see it. I noticed that it somehow made it to Gainesville. By “local,” I mean “Raleigh,” of course. I read Hamann’s Socratic Memorabilia yesterday in O’Flaherty’s impressive scholarly edition. That “Uebersetzer” means both “ferryman” and “translator” and thus lends itself to Charonic puns was a tidbit I’d heretofore not consumed. I’d like to write my own scholarship in something like Hamann’s style, though sadly this is not feasible.

The Most Touching Spam

Mar 19, 2007
I’m trying to track down an expression I found in Patrick O’Brian. The OED doesn’t know anything about it, though I did, while looking, discover that Beckett is quoted for two senses of the unmentionable word that forms the first half of this mysterious compound. The spam was about Samonsite repair, by the way. Or so it claims. It seems Russian in provenance. I’m just back from this year’s Narrative Conference in D.

Satie's Gnossiennes Aren't Depressing

Mar 3, 2007
Contrary to what Clancy just told me while shutting my door. They are chemical wedding happy. I would like to have a comprehensive listing of every film that’s used them or the Gymnopedies in the background. The Royal Tenenbaums comes immediately to mind. Here’s a partial list. I’m reading, among other things, M. John Harrison’s Viriconium (with an introduction by Neil Gaiman in which he mentions buying a copy of the Codex Seraphinianus and refers to the panel I reproduced a while ago).

Even Ebert Nods

Jan 19, 2007
I’ve acutally always thought that Roger Ebert is a sensible critic with good taste. I just watched Dark City, however, and I’m surprised by the extent to which he overpraises it. To me, it seemed a dull exercise in neo-gnosticism (pick a PKD volume at random, almost, for a more intellectually intriguing treatment of the theme); and Kiefer Sutherland’s performance was so annoying that I’ve begun to question my faith in Jack Bauer’s ability to lead us through the current crisis.

Prestige and Pynchon

Jan 10, 2007
Clancy and I saw The Prestige in the worst theater in the world on New Year’s Eve. I had read the considerably more interesting book (how could you eliminate the frame story?) immediately beforehand, and I find it curious that Michael Wood, who’s reviewed both the the film and Against the Day in the LRB didn’t mention the shared fascination with Tesla and the occult properties of electricity seen in both.


Sep 23, 2006
Brian Cox starred in a German adaptation of The Invention of Morel. Perhaps I can succeed in tracking it down. Perhaps not in this case a “promoter of the first fucking degree.” Speaking of Deadwood, it’s worth pointing out–and perhaps the coda will address this–but it’s worth pointing out that the historical Seth Bullock was not consistently a friend of the working man, using sulpherous fumes to disperse striking miners at one point.

The Burial Ground

Aug 20, 2006
I’ve just skimmed over The Shining, and it seems to be the case that the haunted Indian burial ground origin was added by the film, and later borrowed, farcically, in Poltergeist. The transformation of topiary (but see Zork II) into labyrinth, ostensibly a matter of economy, is hard to avoid; but I was interested in, while reviewing the novel, the ultimate stupidity of the haunting contrasted to the hints of menace in Shockley’s reaction to Jack’s research plans, which seem to go beyond any self-interest.

Supplement to Cronenberg

Mar 15, 2006
Denis Johnson’s story “There Comes after Here,” published in the April 1972 Atlantic (which also features a disapproving review of Straw Dogs by David Denby, cf. his current NY’er review of V for Vendetta), ends with a woman, beset by the quasi-naturalistic forces stage-managed in A History of Violence having a religious revelation on her bus to Pennsylvania. I can’t remember if this incident was directly incorporated into Angels or is merely similar; but it is clearly a moment of lunatic transcendence.

Perhaps It's Only Because I Went to School There

Feb 26, 2006
But I think this Mr. Lynch’s Neverland, whether it’s called Lumberton or Twin Peaks or Mulholland Drive, is by design timeless, fundamentally impervious to the grown-up perspective that lets most of us assimilate our experiences into something like a traditional detective story: a narrative that explains the past and allows us to move (however dully) on. The world Blue Velvet creates is static, an imaginative city of simultaneity in which everything, good and bad, is present all at once.

Schrader's Dominion

Dec 13, 2005
During yet another break from grading, I watched the Paul Schrader-directed version of the Exorcist prequel. As you may know, the studio execs thought Schrader’s film so commerically unviable that they hired another director to jazz it up for the release with the screaming and the demonic hyenas, nyeagh. I actually tried watching that version earlier this year and could not. I found myself curious about Schrader’s Calvinism and his take on the film’s events here, though he didn’t write the script, and, as the indifferent-sounding director’s commentary makes clear, was brought in on the project after John Frankenheimer could not longer work on it.

Design and the Guide

Dec 12, 2005
Last night, taking a break from grading a set of papers on utopia, progress, and technology, I stopped to watch The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I remember some bad-sounding buzz about this on the internets, and went in expecting to be disappointed. I wasn’t, though. Tim seems to resemble Douglas Adams quite a bit, and I always pictured Arthur Dent as looking like his jacket photo. Versatile Sam Rockwell’s presidential impersonation was not, as the Village Voice review reminds us, terribly subversive; but I found it amusing nontheless.

I'm Sure It's Old News

Sep 18, 2005
But I just learned via this NYT Magazine profile of David Cronenberg that After “The Dead Zone,” Cronenberg spent most of 1984 writing 12 drafts of a screenplay for “Total Recall,” only to have the producer reject them all; he found himself going broke. Reitman - who says he has “always thought that David should make a comedy” - brought him out to Beverly Hills and pitched him “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Primer's Time

Aug 25, 2005
Shane Carruth’s Primer, budgeted at \$7,000, is the most intelligent time-travel film I’ve ever seen (including La Jetee.) Though I can’t claim to be a time travel film scholar like Chuck Tryon, I think he’s come to a similar conclusion. It remains vaguely obscene to compare it to The Matrix or Memento, as some of the understandably puzzled reviewers have done. Before getting into just what’s so good about it, consider the following thought-experiment: at what order of magnitude increase in budget could the film not have been made?

Jeder fuer sich und Gott gegen alle and the Lingua Adamica

Dec 17, 2004
The dissection of Hauser’s brain in the final scene of this film reveals unusual development in the cerebrum, and Hauser’s murder is clearly the rage of Caliban at seeing himself in the mirror. Though the idea of a human deprived of language and being reintegrated into the society is fairly common, are they instances of the reverse–of a lingual explorer finding a small colony or tribe of non-speaking humans? Did Leibniz, Bruno, Wilkins, Boehme, et al, have any interest in the feral human?

I Did Not Know and Should Have Known

Dec 14, 2004
That Gödel’s favorite movie was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. This was from one hell’uva interesting article [Chronicle] by Palle Yourgrau excerpted from his forthcoming A World Without Time: The Forgotten Legacy of Gödel and Einstein. I should also recommend this SEP casual introduction to time machines.