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Washtenaw Flaneurade
30 December 2011
Mumblecore Navidad
Now Playing: Scott Walker--"Montague Terrace (In Blue)"

Winter's setting in, and a new year (perhaps the last one, if your name's "Eight Deer Lord" or some such) looms. I'm warily hopeful for Sunday's arrival, which will hopefully begin to see a payoff for what's been a very busy year. I supervised a garden, worked my day job, wrote ten stories, edited a longer project, began another, visited another country (if "only" Canada) and actually saw two movies in the theater--Attack the Block and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I've gone out a lot less and saved a bit more, though still fully able to enjoy great times with wonderful friends. I switched shifts at work and did a lot more actual cooking there, though I miss the valuable cross-pollinating cultural influences of my two former shiftmates, both of whom shuffled around at about the same time. I haven't kept up with new music or art as well as I have in the past, though I'll chalk this up to my work habits as much as my reduced access to the new. The year, as a result, seemed to pass awfully quick, world events such as the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement helping it along.

I turned thirty-seven last month, and though I reckon I've got a good couple of decades left (barring the vagaries of geopolitical conflict, sociopolitical corrosion, and environmental depletion, each one likely moving more and more towards some appalling synergy--i.e. if I'm not killed in a food or water riot), I feel the need to grow more discriminating in my activities and cultural intake. As an occasionally very wise co-worker of mine once put it, "I'm too old for stuff that sucks." My hibernation last winter was a great success, and I'll be trying something similar in the next few months. Music to hear, books to read, TV and films to watch (especially the former on Netflix streaming), food to cook, and above all stories to write and share (and even sell, to the few venues still going in for that kind of thing). I've been promising myself to do that since I was first--and last--published, five years ago, and now that I'm almost at fifty stories, I really have little excuse left to get my ass in gear. The next year promises to be very interesting in many ways, whatever happens outside the confines of my now-beloved garret.

The quiet exhilaration I feel has been strengthened by recent forays into films and TV, in which I'd slacked considerably over the past year in favor of my own creative process. Catching up on Parks and Recreation, Party Down and Community whetted my appetite for more, and I'm now in the middle of 30 Rock, with How I Met Your Mother, My Boys, and several web series to follow. It's an exciting enough time to be watching television (arguably the dominant American art form, having taken over from cinema sometime during the last decade) that I'm almost tempted to get one myself just for their being so damn cheap (we have a communal TV in the house, but I decided not to get a digital tuner). I'm worried, though, that I'll turn back into the couch potato I could so easily become before the late 1990s, and that all my ambitions for the next year will be thwarted. There'll probably be a lot more handwringing, and my growing interest in certain sports (in 2010 it was soccer, this year it was baseball and football; I expect hockey and basketball to get their hooks in me next) and the approach of the Olympics (which would be more compelling were they the Winter Olympics and therefore more likely to include Maelle Ricker, Cindy Klassen or Ashleigh McIvor) will probably induce me to cave at some point in the next couple of months. At any rate, I guess it'll be interesting to see how that transpires.

The Internet, of course, makes it "worse." Just as my creeping interest in sports is intensified by instant access to the stats and standings of every major sports league in the world, as well as liveblogging and occasional video and audio hookups to certain matches and games, it's easier to follow the big picture of the best writing and performing, and the frequently incestuous nature of its development. There are few better examples of these twisted connections than American comedy, which can be ably followed on Splitsider. I write variably humorous speculative fiction, but tend to be more interested in the "humor" side when it comes to influences. The emphasis is partly due to my overriding love of early twentieth-century "weird fiction" (i.e. Lovecraft, Smith, and arguably Burroughs, even though I haven't read much of the latter) which I still consider my primary literary touchstone. I've strayed away from a lot of contemporary horror and sci-fi, largely because they've often tended to split from each other so decisively. It's hard to ignore, though, the vitality of modern comedy, especially in an era with such kaleidoscopic variety and defiant vigor. A good case in point is the career of indie film director (and fellow native Louisianian) Mark Duplass, who started out making acclaimed little flicks like The Puffy Chair (2005) and Baghead (2008) and moved on to comedic acting performances in Greenberg (2010) and the fantasy football sitcom The League (2009-). The web of connections, both in terms of acting credits and general themes, extends far in Duplass' case, and the same is true of a number of others, to the extent that it all seems like a unified whole, if you squint really, really hard. The sense of being a spectator of a genuine movement is an exciting thing, which I'll hopefully be able to discuss later. For the present, though, there are movies to watch.

 Sorry, Thanks (2009): Almost by happenstance, I've become something of an aspiring connoisseur of the so-called "mumblecore" movement, as exemplified by Andrew Bujalski and, yes, the Duplass Brothers, and now continued by the cinematic directorial debut of Dia Sokol, formerly producer of two of Bujalski's films (2005's Mutual Appreciation and 2008's wonderful Beeswax, and coming from a behind-the-scenes career in reality TV, of all places). My fondness for the things surprises me a little; I can well see how the aesthetic might put people off. I've written before about the basic setup: somewhat directionless twenty- or thirtysomethings living in urban areas, liberal, culturally aware, and despite or because of the signifiers, largely powerless (or at least portrayed as such). For someone like myself who ticks more than a few of these boxes, it can be both hilariously familiar and uncomfortably close to watch films of this sort. Max (Wiley Wiggins, probably best known as young Mitch in Dazed and Confused) and Kira (Kenya Miles) have a "morning after" moment in San Francisco's Mission District (refreshingly non-northeastern for a change) and the film's scope gradually widens to reveal the scope of Max and Kira's ambitions, desires, and how those affect others, in particular Max's painfully sweet girlfriend Sara (Ia Hernandez). It's a small, offbeat film that genuinely earns its quirkiness for a change, by leaving this viewer unsatisfied in a good (or at least artistically valid) way--the same, after all, can be said for all the film's characters. Kira's trying to recover from a breakup and find a low-level job despite being "overqualified" for the ones available. Sara, never terribly comfortable with Max's apparent distance from both her and himself, is saddened to find him drifting farther and farther away throughout the film. Mason (Andrew Bujalski himself), Max's entertainingly abusive best friend, is constantly frustrated by Max's charming, gregarious idiocy.

Max is the most interesting character, or at least the one with the most screen time and personal connections, and I found it a very low-key indictment of the film's world that things emerge this way. He's charming and sleazy at the same time, and it's a credit to Wiggins that both qualities come through equally strong. In many ways, he's a typical "Nice Guy (TM)," saying all the right things and projecting the right sensitivity and humor, but operating with a fundamental disrespect for his partner. It's refreshing, though, that he's not creepily possessive; his foibles seem activated more by ennui and boredom than anxiety (working in a senator's office, his opening pitch to two aspiring interns is bleakly hilarious). Kira, freshly out of a breakup, is out for simple companionship (and something less than what her admirer Simon can offer), but can't stop running into Max wherever she goes. Her own life, in contrast to Max's, is full of anxiety, much of it frustration from her last job and hoping to finesse her approach just right for a low-level copy-editing job (Kira has her own great workplace moment, giving classic stock answers for her job interview with a lack of conviction perpetually threatening to break through the surface). Miles gives Kira a loose yet slightly uneasy charm, the soul of someone adrift and wondering if the slinky thing before them is a rope or a snake. The supporting characters are rather less fleshed out, with the notable exception of Sara, portrayed with deceptive cuteness by Hernandez. Her own self-realization (at least in relation to Max) doesn't reach full blast until the end, but when it does, it's a doozy, and perfectly rounds out Sokol's quietly brilliant little work.

Posted by Charles J. Microphone at 9:25 PM EST
Updated: 30 December 2011 9:28 PM EST
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30 December 2011 - 10:33 PM EST

Name: "Margot"
Home Page:

Ooh--glad to get another "mumblecore" recommendation. I caught Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg's Nights and Weekends on IFC a few weeks ago and was unsettled and intrigued--"hilariously familiar and uncomfortably close" is about right.

Enjoy your hibernation. I'm also torn between feeling like I need to kind of bunker down, mentally recuperate and re-engage, do some reading and rediscover some music and art...and on the other hand feeling like I should focus instead on producing more--working on the book, the blog, etc. Maybe what I really need isn't a burst of either, but a balance of both?

Happy New Year!

1 January 2012 - 2:26 PM EST

Name: "W. Flaneur"

I've been looking around for "Nights and Weekends," especially after I saw Gerwig shine so bright in "Baghead" and "Greenberg." I'll be watching "The Puffy Chair" fairly soon. It really tickles me that there's now an entire, influential subgenre of what I like to call "IFC films." Especially considering some of the conversational styles in which I've been involved, it can emphasize the mumbling maybe a little *too* much, but it's still a refreshing change from the dominant styles of mainstream cinema (although I'll be watching "The Kids Are All Right" to get some kind of contrast).

For me, hibernation's actually an excuse to get stuff done. It's weird; during the summer I'll be walking and riding all over the place, and have to concentrate and plan to stay inside. That's why I want to make sure the winter works. That said, agreement on the balance. There's always the danger that I'll sink into a winter-imposed solipsism (due to not going out at all or interacting with others). Fortunately, that hasn't happened in several years; memories of the last time have proven too strong for me to fall into that trap again. 

Happy New Year to you, too! I'm hoping it's a productive and fulfilling one for us both (and all)! 

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