“Is Your Villain Appropriate?”—Examining Character Construction in Different Media

A D Jameson:

This post came up today in conversation, and I thought, why not reblog it. Enjoy!

Originally posted on BIG OTHER:

Every Monday, I read Mark Rosewater’s weekly column “Making Magic,” partly because I have a casual interest in the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering (I once played it, and some of my friends still play it), but mainly because Rosewater routinely offers great insights into aesthetics and game design. (He’s also a strong writer who regularly experiments with his column’s form.)

In an article published a few weeks back, Rosewater outlines why he thinks one of Magic’s villains, the Phyrexians, are that game’s best. As is typical with Rosewater, it boils down to a design principle—in this case, how the game operates narratively:

As a story-telling venue, Magic is best when it is telling what I call environmental stories. That is, the best thing Magic can show off creatively is an environment. The genre of a trading card game requires that you show lots of creatures and…

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Feature Friday: “My Name Is Albert Ayler” (2007)

albertanddonald

I’ve been wanting to watch this film since I read a review of it in Sight & Sound six years ago. I’m a huge fan of Albert Ayler! Alas, the film is not available on video. So imagine my pleasure when I stumbled across a copy on YouTube…

You can learn more about the film at the official website for the film.

You can watch the film by clicking past the jump.

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Feature Tuesday: “What Time Is It There?”

I think I’ve already featured this on Feature Friday, but this is Feature Tuesday. And in any case I’m sure that other copy is now down.

Tsai Ming-Liang is one of my favorite living filmmakers, and What Time Is It There? was the first work of his that I saw. I recommend everything he’s made, and think that, ultimately, it’s best to watch all of his films in order (since each new film is usually an oblique sequel to the last one). But What Time? made an excellent entry point for me, and it’s a beautiful, wonderful film in its own right, if you watch just it:

Enjoy!

* Some translate the title as What Time Is It Over There?, and maybe that’s preferable somehow, but I prefer the way the title sounds without the preposition.

The Big Other Contributors List

contributorsThe contributors list at Big Other recently changed and I’m wondering what the new organizing logic is. Before, the list recorded the order in which contributors joined the site. Now it’s something else. At first glance I thought it was now in alphabetical order, but it isn’t. Perhaps it’s arbitrary? But the names seem grouped according to initial letter: A D Jameson, Amber Sparks. But even that doesn’t work, because the list starts and ends with A’s. And not all the J’s are together, and later on there’s a P, then an N, then two P’s. Next I thought that it might be in order of total page views, but then Greg Gerke’s name would be higher up. It’s also not in order of who’s made the most recent post, because it isn’t, and if so it would always be changing. And that would also be redundant, since the posts themselves establish that order. So I just don’t get the list’s logic; I’m hoping this post provokes discussion of this issue, though I’ll concede it isn’t important. But I don’t like things I don’t understand, though I’ll also concede that there’s no real reason why I should understand anything. I’ll also admit that I haven’t been posting much as of late. I’ve been busy with school, but also been trying to figure out what I should post here. Below you can see a photo that I posted; I’ve long thought that it might be cool for this site to have more visual art. I spent most of last year posting links to movies, so I thought I might spend this year posting photos. But Edward is kinda already covering that with his Bluets posts. So I’m left wondering what the new list’s logic is, and what I should post. Perhaps I’ll put up posts like this, metatextual musings on the subject of Big Other? Well, I’ll first wait and see if anyone responds to this post. Thank you for reading.

from Philip K. Dick’s Galactic Pot-Healer

“[T]here are no small matters. Just as there is no small life. The life of an insect, a spider, his life is as large as yours, and yours is as large as mine. Life is life. You wish to live as much as I do; you have spent seven months of hell, waiting day after day for what you needed . . . the way a spider waits. Think about the spider, Joe Fernwright. He makes his web. Then he makes a little silk cave at the end of the web to sit in. He holds strands that lead to every part of the web, so that he will know when something to eat, something he must have to live, arrives. He waits. A day goes by. Two days. A week. He waits on; there is nothing he can do but wait. The little fisherman of the night . . . and perhaps something comes, and he lives, or nothing comes, and he waits and he thinks, ‘It won’t come in time. It is too late.’ And he is right, he dies still waiting.”

from Daniel Deronda

from Daniel Deronda

“Attempts at description are stupid: who can all at once describe a human being? even when he is presented to us we only begin that knowledge of his appearance which must be completed by innumerable impressions under different circumstances.”  —George Eliot, Daniel Deronda (1876)

I carry a straight edge with me for tidier underlining, but in this case I was either too excited or too lazy to dig it out.

Sorry, John

But the Imperial White House has responded:

  • “The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We’re working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.
  • The Administration does not support blowing up planets.
  • Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?”

… More at the site.

(& this is re: this, obv.)

Feature Friday: “What Time Is It There?” (2001)

waht_time_is_it_there-2

If this is to be your final day on earth, then this is as fine a final film to watch as any other. Finer, even.

It’s the first Tsai Ming-Liang film that I saw. Afterwards, I went and watched all his other films, and have kept up with him ever since. He’s one of my favorite living directors.

I hope you have the same experience.

(Here’s something I wrote about a later film of his, Visage.)

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Feature Friday: “Le monde vivant” (2003)

le-monde-vivant

I was at Odd Obssession a few years back, and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky told me he had a film he wanted me to see. It was Le monde vivant. I went home and watched it straight away. It’s an utter masterpiece.

Le monde vivant is a minimalist medieval fantasy, replete with ogres and knights, but also Lacanian witches. Its writer and director, Eugène Green, shot it in the French countryside using, for the most part, everyday dress and objects—an inverted response to Jean-Luc Godard’s science-fiction film Alphaville, which used sections of Paris in which the future had already arrived. Le monde vivant continuously illustrates William Faulkner’s famous quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The film is also about language, and the power of our declarations to reconfigure the world. Two kids are playing, and one of them tells the other, “I am a giant.” And so he is, within that game. (He claims that it’s natural that he should be the giant, since he is bigger.) Then the kids are kidnapped by an ogre, who is an ogre within the larger game of the film. Another example, from a later scene: the ogre’s wife tells the heroic Lion Knight, “We are alone.” “It is strange that we can be alone,” he counters, “even though we are two.” She replies, “Grammar makes it so.”

I could go on about this movie all day, noting how Green conflates contemporary slang with more formal speech, or mention his deep debt to Robert Bresson—but you should just watch the thing. It’s only 70 minutes long, and consistently witty and charming, and easily one of the best films of the past ten years.

le monde vivant farewell

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Feature Friday: “Eden and After” (1970)

Here’s something odd. Both Alain Robbe-Grillet and Catherine Jourdan (pictured above) died on 18 February (Robbe-Grillet in 2008, Jourdan in 2011).

Robbe-Grillet’s films don’t get enough attention. Hell, his fiction doesn’t get enough attention. Let’s try correcting that, though, rather than complaining? Just like Margureite Duras, Robbe-Grillet leveraged his successful collaboration with Alain Resnais into an idiosyncratic directing career. Between 1963 and 2006 he made ten features, all of which (like his fiction) served to explore his fascinations with narrative and sexual convulsions.

The plot of Eden and After begins very simply: a woman (Jourdan) searches for the truth behind the death of a man she met—and thereby enters a sexual labyrinth…

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Feature Friday: “Providence” (1977)

It turns out there’s a very beautiful copy up at YouTube. (I’d been looking for one for a while.) This has never been my favorite Alain Resnais film, though I’m not sure why. Something about it doesn’t work for me, and yet at the same time, I’m frequently drawn back to thinking about it, and am always eager to revisit it. Because certainly the  concept underlying it a brilliant metafictional conceit. Put very simply, John Gielguld plays an author who spend a long night making up a new novel starring his family. He’s especially nasty in his feelings toward them, and spends much of the time revising the text so as to torture them.

Then, the next day, his family comes to visit him…

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Feature Friday: “Hiroshima mon amour” (1959)

Jeremy M. Davies’s Rose Alley has been on my mind as of late, so this one’s for him. I asked Jeremy why he chose to name the first chapter “Evelyn Nevers,” a direct reference to the film. He replied:

The first thing we see in Hiroshima is Elle/Nevers’s naked flesh, scattered with ashes (as I recall—anyway, it should be). Except that it’s almost certainly a body double, since no faces as visible. (Again, as I recall–I might be Eberting this.) Plus, Nevers is a (real) place, yet a very unlikely surname for a real French person (like naming a character “Sacramento” or “Des Moines” … not impossible, probably, but peculiar). And in Hiroshima, Elle is dubbed “Nevers” because she and Lui/Hiroshima don’t use their proper names during their affair; they become stand-ins for their hometowns, both of which were destroyed (morally in one case and literally in the other) by the war. They cannot communicate, culturally, and as such become emblematic of their cultures to one another.

So, nudity (degraded) + introducing a shallow and Rousselian “misunderstanding” of France … I can see why it felt right, for me, at the time. Plus, it’s univocalic, if you don’t mind the y (Perec), and of course the main thing with all the names was euphony …

Happy early birthday, Jeremy! I present to you an online copy of HMA

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