April 23, 2005

Discussing An Artistic Tradition [6:35 pm]

The Unreal Road From Toontown to ‘Sin City’

ROBERT RODRIGUEZ’S “Sin City” and Stephen Chow’s “Kung Fu Hustle” are, without question, two of the most inventive screen entertainments released so far this year, but nobody is likely to accuse either one of being terribly original. Indeed, both movies base their appeal on a combination of visual novelty and generic familiarity. Looking quite unlike anything you have ever seen before, they are also knowingly and ostentatiously derivative, packed with quotations, allusions, spoofs and outright thefts from older movies.

By now, of course, such thievery is itself more than a little secondhand. Most obviously, these two films are the latest - though surely not the last - symptoms of the global influence of Quentin Tarantino, whose genius as a director lies in his ability to recover, reanimate and recombine moribund and semi-obscure genres. [...]

[...] But the two films share another ancestor, one that their R ratings and proudly displayed film-geek credentials may render a bit obscure. Watching these movies, you think inevitably of other movies - Bruce Lee and early Jackie Chan vehicles in one case, classic film noirs in the other - but the movie I found myself most frequently reminded of was “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Robert Zemeckis’s prophetic hybrid of private-eye pulp and cartoon anarchy was released in 1988, six years before “Pulp Fiction,” and it is still worth revisiting on home video for its antic energy and visual flair. But to watch it now is also to see the extent to which it was, less benignly, a harbinger of things to come.

[...] But even if the technology is neither inherently dangerous nor inherently wonderful, its applications can be worrisome. It is curious that the new techniques are so often used in the service of parody and nostalgia, as they are in both “Sin City” and “Kung Fu Hustle.” And the result is often that the old forms, as they are spiffed up and retrofitted, are also emptied out. Mr. Rodriguez, for example, has rendered a gorgeous world of silvery shadows that updates the expressionist cinematography of postwar noir without expressing very much at all. His city, with its tough guys and femmes fatales, feels uninhabited, and the social anxiety and psychological unease of the old film noirs has been digitally broomed away. Instead, “Sin City” offers sensation without feeling, death without grief, sin without guilt and, ultimately, novelty without surprise. Something is missing - something human. Don’t let the movies fool you: Roger Rabbit was guilty.

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Now, For Some Important Legislative Business [6:21 pm]

This Mouse Won’t Hunt

Lawmakers from Augusta to Sacramento are locking and loading to shoot down a Web site that purports to let people hunt big game online. This topic has been heating up for more than a month after Texas-based Live-Shot.com opened for business, and is finally gaining front-burner status after a prominent Republican congressman introduced a bill to outlaw Internet hunting nationwide.

Explaining his bill, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said last week that “fair chase is a basic element of hunting. You have to be there, in the field, not sitting behind a computer screen.”

[...] The L.A. Times presented an interesting point of view from Dale Jamieson, an environmental studies and philosophy professor at New York University. He said that Live-Shot is “an understandable, if disturbing, extension of a computer society that produces games like ‘Grand Theft Auto.’ Jamieson: “If you look at this as being kind of a continuum or slippery slope … you have people who enjoy the act of killing and destruction in video games, you have people who enjoy killing animals over the Internet. But of course the next step in this is that people start killing people over the Internet. That’s the worry.”

Uh-huh - truly a long shot, I think.

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2 Years Post-iTunes, What’s Needed? [6:18 pm]

5 Ways to Unleash the Music

It’s risky to ask that the terms of sale in the online music business be reopened to discussion — before the debut of iTunes, we had stores that were designed to suit major labels’ wish lists, and the results were horrible. It’s still a good idea to have retailers such as Apple, Microsoft and Napster LLC enforce a ceiling on prices and usage restrictions, so that we’re not yanked back to the bad old days of such customer-hostile stores as Pressplay and MusicNet. But customers don’t need any online retailers imposing restrictions that stop labels from offering buyers a better deal.

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