Academic

Hey, look, a journal.

     So, some of you may have been wondering where I've been for a while. Well.

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     The weirdest part of this is that the crazy hasn't just been localised to my immediate vicinity. For the last week or so, Wellington has felt strange, like a powder keg that's just waiting to go off. Everyone seems to be on the brink of snapping. If it continues, I predict random and senseless violence will start flaring up. The nights have been darker, and the darkness has been palpable. It's like Gotham City after the Joker starts wreaking havoc, or New York City in 'Watchmen'. The whole world feels dangerous, like the lunatics are in charge and the only people you ever see, or worse - something is turning everybody, no matter how sane, that bit closer to the edge. Caleb was feeling closed in a few nights ago, and there was very little to help him. Relationships are crumbling like dry sandcastles, relationships that were meant to be solid. Priorities are reversed.
     If this sounds scary, it should. I'm actually a little nervous in this city at the moment. I'm glad most of you are out of it.

     I was having a discussion with a good friend about an innocuous topic, and he disagreed with me. It wasn't important, something about his reasons for joining a club, and we disagreed. My friend, and suddenly all I wanted to do was punch him in the face.
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Academic

Music Videos #30: In Which There's Tears Before Bedtime

1. Ratatat, 'Drugs'
Directed by: Carl Burgess
From the 2010 album LP4
Watch at YouTube

There's something a little weird going on in this video. I'm not sure precisely how to describe it, but it's similar to that feeling I get when I have to type a word repeatedly in rapid succession: after a while it begins to look as though it's spelled wrong. About a minute into this video, something strange happens - the faces of the actors temporarily look disproportionate, like their mouths are too wide or something. It may be in my head. And then, when that subsides, the video piles weird on weird: against the not-entirely-unpleasant synthesised droning of the song, we see extreme close-ups of extreme emotion. The actors are angry or crying. Beneath the obvious inspiration of a day at the studio for stock photography, there's something hidden away here: something almost sinister, Stepford Wives-ish. An exploration of the too too perfect.

2. Godley & Creme, 'Cry'
Directed by: Kevin Godley and Lol Creme
From the 1985 album The History Mix Vol. 1
Watch at YouTube

This video struck the well of morphing technology long before Michael Jackson's 'Black or White' did, and to much more impressive effect. Here's a very simple idea for a very simple song, and yet they're both so satisfying simply through sheer repetition. The song tells us 'You don't know how to ease my pain', and we're told through the lyrics and through the people staring at us, delivering the words with such impassioned faces that we can't help but feel it. The fact that the actor who really is crying is overacting a little doesn't harm the video in any way - it's as though everyone has turned the emotion up to eleven anyway. We really do feel it, even from the Mr. T lookalike. And this song was directly responsible for the Flight of the Conchords song 'I'm Not Crying'. What more could you ask for?

3. St. Vincent, 'Actor Out of Work'
Directed by: Ian Kibbey and Corey Creasey
From the 2009 album Actor
Watch at YouTube

I found that this video shot straight to the top three favourites for 2009 - mostly because I'm an occasional actor and have been in audition like this. They're quite intense, and when you find yourself stuck in a room with a dozen people forcing themselves to tear up in various ways, it tends to heighten the emotion. This is why these two-and-a-half minutes are so powerful: because we're very close to the emotion, even though we know it's fake. The music soars with a wonderful backing vocal as we get closer and closer to the brink of the horrible emotion, and Annie sits there, almost mocking us with the lyrics. 'You're an actor out of work' is a literal line, and yet has a ring of subtext to it: someone who she used to love is manipulating her, and these auditions are really just a way of proving it.
Academic

Here comes the rain again.

     Keen viewers may notice that that last time I posted here, it was raining quite intensely on the morning of my sister's wedding (I still feel vaguely Godfather-ish whenever I use that phrase  "You come here, on the day of my only sister's wedding..."). Well, that went away for all of about an hour, and then returned at the beginning of the reception. It then kept up, without stopping, for thirty hours. It's nowhere near as bad as Australia's ordeal, but there has been some impressive flooding around the country and in the Hawke's Bay we managed to get seven inches of rain in twenty-four hours.

     But, the wedding. I realised that there was no way I was going to be able to use any of the venues I'd originally anticipated for the photography (I took a trek out at ten a.m., five hours before the ceremony, to have a look at the most covered one, a park. Five seconds after getting out of the car, my sneakers had completely soaked through and by the time I got as far as the location itself, the field had sodden my jeans from the knees down. I'm lucky I wasn't wearing my suit). This meant that my father and I were going to have to locate a new one, and fast.

     The day was quite easily the longest day of work I've ever experienced - thirteen hours all told. I jaunted back and forth between the bride getting hair and make-up done to the groom having a last drink of freedom to the bride getting into her dress and my mother crying and my brother teaching my father how to tie a full Windsor knot. The ceremony was short and, with my eyes behind the camera all the time, all I really remember is the actual snapshots. I honestly don't recall hearing the vows, which is a bit of a shame.

     At the reception, after the bridal shots were taken, I was seated with three cousins and their significant others, making me the only person at the table without a plus-one (Caleb, being a vegan, couldn't be slotted into the dinner at such short notice after my fiance and I split). Two of the three were planning weddings, and thus were remarking on the choices that had been made. My new brother-in-law's family are hardly speechmakers, the groom's father being one of those people that you don't want to converse with: equal parts inappropriate and downright strange, with a broad streak of thinking he's funny. The best man, it seems, hadn't actually prepared a speech. But aside from that, the reception got the approval from the soon-to-be married couples. And, of course, as the night was winding down, the third couple got engaged. I'm pretty sure that suggesting to Caleb that we tie the knot 'because everyone else is' might not go down well.

     The morning rush, and the stresses of redesigning a wedding shoot with no time, meant that I crammed an entire evening's worth of drinking into about two hours. But to be honest, my father and I had managed to finagle a rather cool-looking location that we could drive the vintage Fords into, was under shelter, had some interesting backdrops, and gave the whole thing a Bugsy Malone slash industrial look.

     And that's why my sister's wedding photography took place in a kiwifruit packhouse.
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Eep.

     So, it's my sister's wedding today, and I'm photographing. It's also pouring with rain.

     Well, there go all the locations I had considered shooting in.
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Academic

Music Videos #29: In Which a Fight Breaks Out.


I wanted to wait until I found the name of a particular music video. I wasn't expecting it to take three weeks of frantic searching. I was watching New Zealand's music channel at 11 p.m., muted in the background while I took dictation for the speech my father's giving at my sister's wedding (which officially happens today), and I saw the familiar video. So:

1) Kids of 88, 'Just a Little Bit'
Directed by: Tim van Dammen
From the 2010 album Sugarpills
Watch at YouTube

I'm not necessarily a big fan of these guys; they've always struck me as a bit of a hipster-dance-anthem band, much as that implies an oxymoron, but I'm actually quite fond of the video for this song. It's not perfect, though. These guys are part of a host of similar sounding KIwi bands that have a thing for unnecessary 1980s visual effects, and the weird stereovision effect they have going on is pretty bad. Unless it's meant to be available in 3-D... [EDIT: I got out my red-blue 3D glasses and checked. No, it is not.] But the style of the video itself, all fight-scene with overt sexual undertones, is pretty cool. It includes the actual sounds of gasping from the track itself and exploits them in both the ways they could be seen. Plus, this video gets bonus points for presenting a rather interesting display of alternative sexualities - I may be overstating it, but that's no mean feat for a band to do here.

2) Operator Please, 'Leave It Alone'
Directed by: Duncan Skiles
From the 2007 album Yes Yes Vindictive
Watch at YouTube

These guys, on the other hand, I'm quite fond of. And it's partly this ridiculously cheery homage to Reservoir Dogs-style fight scenes that earned their place in my list of favourite Aussie exports. The whole 'paint as blood' thing has been done before, but never have I seen it done with quite this level of tongue-in-cheek fun and vibrancy that the idea so obviously requires. The fight sequences are surprisingly good, considering that I doubt any of the band members are trained stuntmen, the style (including a few wicked slow motion shots) is brilliant, and there are a few moments in amid the brightness and the paint splatter that are impressively gory. Limbs will go flying, and you may find yourself put off your food. But, oh, it will be worth it.

3) Jonathan Boulet, 'North to South East to You'
Directed by: Special Problems
From the 2010 album Jonathan Boulet
Watch at YouTube

Ah, the wall of death. I've never seen it look so... serene. I saw this video about eight months ago, then promptly forgot the name of the artist, the name of the song, and all of the lyrics. All I had was the description 'a bunch of indie boys colliding into each other in front of a grey screen'. And while that's a relatively concise description, it doesn't go any way towards explaining how this video makes me feel. So I'll try it another way. This song has a drumbeat that feels like I should be running, it has a vocal line that makes me feel like I should be sitting in a forest, and it has a distorted piano piece that makes me feel like I should be waiting for a train. It has a video that runs almost to monochromatism, and this lack of colour sharpens the movement, so the slow motion of the running, the deliberate scuff of the worn sneakers on the floor (a shot that still lingers with me), and the final, gratifying thud of the eventual crashes all resonate with me very, very deeply. There's also something to be said about the editing: in the mass groups scenes, some of the runners are female, but the collisions are between (as far as I can tell) only males. The violence in the actual actions are turned by the slow motion into a kind of embrace, particularly when the runners are cut off before they make contact with one another. And then the editing picks up, in time with the tempo of the song, and starts playing with direction. The slow motion that made the boys embrace now makes them weightless, and they almost start to fly. And that's the feeling that running, sitting in forests, and waiting for trains should always give me. A feeling of disattachment, a feeling of weightlessness.


Mouse

Music Videos #28: In Which I Dust Off the Memes for New Year.

1) Brandon Flowers, 'Crossfire'
Director: Nash Edgerton
From the 2010 album Flamingo
Watch at YouTube

In an unusual twist on the 'damsel in distress' routine, our lead singer from The Killers is here tied to a chair and strung upside-down in a straightjacket. What he's done wrong, we may never know, but it certainly seems to involve a lot of ninjas dancing around and looking vaguely threatening. It also involves being rescued by a very tired-looking Charlize Theron (maybe she looks so tired because Brandon keeps getting kidnapped by ninjas?) Although she keeps busting through doors and Brandon keeps smiling with relief as she cuts the ties around his wrists and the pyrotechnics flail madly, there's a little bit of uncertainty going on here, especially in the look they give each other as they drive off into the sunset in a beaten-up pick-up truck. The song is also a little bit weird in this way: it should be a soaring emotion-driven piece that reminds us of why we liked The Killers, but buried in the back of it is a tiny quiet doubt that occasionally surfaces - are we doing the right thing? Are we talking to the right people? Are we pretty sure we'll be rescued?

2) Cosmo Jarvis, 'Gay Pirates'
Director: Cosmo Jarvis
Unreleased
Watch at YouTube

Okay, so our New Year's party revolved around this song, mostly because it's a good shanty with a massive drumbeat. You can stomp to it. But the video itself is brilliantly put together. It's partly because it's a one-take, partly because it's got some good man-on-man action (with two straight dudes, even!), but mostly because it's the right kind of poor theatre aesthetic that really pleases me. Everything about this song feels well-worn and comfortable. Jarvis stated that the song was partly written to get homophobes dancing along to something before they realise what it is they're dancing along to, beyond the point where they're able to stop themselves easily. It's right there in the video, too: this song is, without doubt, a tragedy. But it's sneaked away by the triumphant return of our pirate heros, somehow still alive after walking the plank. It feels... right, somehow. It's a song that will break your heart if you listen to it closely, with a video that'll pull you right back from the brink of depression, and it all feels perfectly put together.

3) Gob, 'I Hear You Calling'
Director: Unknown
From the 2001 album The World According to Gob
Watch at YouTube

Okay, seriously, screw Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'. It consistently scores number one on lists of 'greatest music video of all time' (what, seriously? Being thirteen minutes long doesn't make it gob-smacking (sorry, that was awful) - just look at any Green Day video. In fact, the only thing that sets it apart is a wicked solo by Vincent Price, and Sir Ian McKellen just did a live performance with the Scissor Sisters, so it's beaten there too, I'm afraid. The worst thing that video has to answer for, though, is this one. 'I Hear You Calling' was the biggest hit this band had (in Canada), and it sounded in 2001 like the Foo Fighters did in 1994. This video retreads the boards of Michael Jackson's video with uncanny precision - bursting out of the ground? Check. 'Thriller' dance? Check. 'Twist' ending? Check. The only things it really adds are zombie cheerleaders, and zombie playing soccer. Yeah, that's right. The filming isn't half bad, but the effects, the song, the plot and everything else are appalling. You know what? Don't waste your time. Watch Dawn of the Dead instead.
Academic

The Epic Haul!

     Boy, I need a pick-me-up.

     It doesn't help that my romantic life is a melting pot of recriminations and I-don't-know-what-I'm-meant-to-do-here. Right now, I really want to be hugged and told it's going to be alright, but that'll only make me feel more entitled. Speaking of entitled, it's probably bad form to make a post detailing what I got for Christmas, but I have a stack of goodies here and I'll be darned if that and a glass of fine scotch won't make me feel better.

     I didn't see my parents until nearly a month after my birthday, so there were a few gifts waiting for me when I arrived in the Hawke's Bay. musicforwolves certainly looks dashing in his 'I am Full of Music' T-shirt from Questionable Content, but not nearly as good as he looks in the one that simply reads 'TEH'. Meanwhile, he'll read from the collected poems of Dorothy Parker, listen to Radiohead's Amnesiac, and watch The Matrix (again).

After Christmas, however, musicforwolves might be a bit busier. He will have to eat gummi bears, rocky road and mango-centred chocolates while making ice cubes shaped like the freakin' Titanic. He could be wearing his Collapse ) 
or the boxers that came with it. He'll do the dishes with a new teatowel while doing 1,001 NYT crosswords and listening to Bach, Rhian Sheehan, and more freakin' Radiohead. Ther's a spherical jigsaw puzzle sitting on the table, but musicforwolves has been distracted by North By Northwest and the seventh season of Scrubs. If that weren't enough, he's got forty bucks to spend on DVD rentals and Glenn Colquhoun, Pablo Neruda, George Orwell, Jamie Oliver and Anton Chekhov to read. There's a copy of Rolling Stone, counting down the top 100 Beatles songs, and an issue of Empire magazine, and two of Black&White photography magazine too. And if he stays in the Hawke's Bay much longer, he'll start sending postcards with Penguin books' original covers on the back.

All this... stuff. Add to that Yuletide and the various creative gifts I've been in the wrong cities to receive. I need to sit down.


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Massive Yuletide Recommendation Post!


     I'm supposed to be researching for the Christmas fanfic gifts I'm sending out, but I was also told to write one of these, so I have spent the better part of three hours skimming the entire Yuletide 2010 archive to find twelve pieces that I can crow about:

On the twelfth day of Yuletide, some fanfic came to me:

12) Cryptic Cases: Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Equitable Agency, written for the obvious fandom. There is very little I can say about this that isn't listed in the multiple comments listed at the bottom, but suffice to say that when I was a kid, Donald J. Sobol had written cases that (when they weren't subsequently proven by tvtropes to be incorrect) were just the right side of solvable. The two cases written here absolutely stumped me, and while I don't know enough to comment on the second solution, the first made me wonder where my observational skills went. It also neatly transplants the characters into their mid-twenties, figuring out that life isn't ever quite the same as it was in high school; just similar enough to recognise.

11) Great Commercials: I'm recovering from my traditional Christmas head cold, but I had to read all 2,300 words of Meta Yuletide Fic (The Fic You Wish Your Fic Smelled Like) aloud in my suavest voice. Which will ruin me, but I. Don't. Care. This is, while perhaps too obviously self-aware, brilliant. All the links work. Some of them even broke my brain. And it is written in the most fantastic impersonation of the Old Spice Guy that I think I've ever heard come from the mouth of someone who isn't the Old Spice Guy. I heartily recommend it to everyone who just wants to laugh hysterically for quite some time. Also, if you haven't had the experience of Care Bears BDSM fic, there's a link at the bottom of Meta Yuletide Fic. You're welcome.

10) Bronte Poems: I Am Acton Bell's Metaphorical Manhood, in the Hark! A Vagrant fandom, has forty-seven comments and a list of kudos that extends for nine lines of text. If you haven't read it, do so now. The first line of this fic is "Anne fucking hates the whole pseudonym thing." so you know it's going to be good.

9) Mystic Cities: Cities and the Dead. 0. The creation of a new one of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities came to me unexpectedly, and I was almost unsure whether or not to proceed with it, after an experience of mine. I recently attended a performance of John Cage's 'Musicircus', where a number of musicians perform different pieces simultaneously. It was not good. (Neither is the awkward shift between hard and soft 's' sounds in the name. But anyway.) I'm glad I kept reading when I discovered what the city of Kethya was like, as it sounds melodious, beautiful, and utterly, utterly horrifying. For that reason, it's my second-favourite non-existent location.

8) Hulkling/Wiccan: One of my favourite Young Avengers fics this year, Relative Terms (or, Not Exactly Christmas Elves) runs the gamut from impossibly sweet to the best kind of ridiculous crackfic ever. "He averted his eyes and scratched the back of his neck, holding the tome out to Billy with one hand. "Happy early Hannukah."" This kind of sentence is so in-character that it makes my heart hurt just a little bit.

7) Danish Royals: Hamlet/Rosencrantz. 'Huh,' I thought, opening By These Pickers and Stealers in a new tab. 'I'm not sure how that'll work.' The answer is 'very well'. It's totally in keeping with the entirety of Hamlet, and tells the brief tale of a rather tempestuous relationship between the two men with a straight face and an occasional brandishing of the source material. I'm hooked, and slightly less inclined to slash the entire play now, which if you know me well will prove somewhat of a relief. Time will tell. Here's a quick sample: "It had been a dreaming sort of world, one to be half forgotten once the day returned."

Whoo, halfway! Let's break into some more obscure stuff that could do with more love:

6) Writing Ravens: The diction in Tea and Conundrums is perfectly spot-on (unlike the stuff in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Abridged), which is good in a very different kind of way). It sets up, much like Lewis Carroll might have done, a quite perfect conundrum to be solved, filled with logical quandaries and a broad sense of surrealism. The first few lines, particularly, set up a pun that would have been music to the ears of an absurdist and master of language like Carroll.

5) Zombies Slash!: Explicit Zombieland fic: not something I thought I'd ever encounter. But the Tallahassee/Columbus slash in Impromptu is the Best Kind of Fun is not only well-written and in character, it's surprisingly HOT (considering I'm not generally a fan of significant age differences). I think what the author has done is make Columbus seem more adult, and Tallahassee more free and adolescent, which eases my discomfort at the general thing. It perhaps could have had a quick beta for spelling errors that spell-check won't notice (grammar fiends, be warned!) but overall, this is surprisingly good, as long as I try not to think too carefully about it.
Note: There's a lot of warnings that should be attached to the aforementioned piece, not least an incredibly trigger-happy dom/sub thing going on. Be prepared.

4) Thought-speak Friends: I thought the characterisation of the Animorphs fic Home(work) was quite impressive, but it's not that that is causing me to recommend this fic as much as I can. It's that this fic employs a very clever literary analysis of a poem by Tennyson to broaden the characters of Jake and Tobias. It's almost a pre-slash thing, but done so subtly and smoothly that I'm no longer sure if I'm reading too much into this writing or actually seeing what the author intended. In any case, it's sweet and a little heartbreaking. If you're a fan of it, or even read the first few books when you were a like, you might like to have a look at this.

3) Kisses:  Being Human fans! Humans in general! Track down Three Kisses, which is an excellent piece about what happens when a Jewish werewolf discovers Christmas. Or at least, that's as close to a summary as I'm willing to give. Put another way, there's three people with mistletoe, right? Which means there's three possible two-person kissing combinations. There's the ghost with the werewolf, the ghost with the vampire, and the vampire with the were... ooh. If Twilight had included this, I would have been one of the people camped out in my living room every time a new book came out. Curse heteronormativity! Anyway... Three Kisses is also wickedly, wickedly funny, right down to the last italicised lines.

2) Hacker Guys: I know, it's probably bad form to pimp the gift I received, but when I was informed that it was still on the list of fics without comments (I needed time to process mine) I had to spring into action. Mouse used to have a life before he was released from The Matrix, but what was it? I have my own answer to that, but the author of Le Chat, Le Chat! gives me a run for my money with this wonderfully written piece. I won't say anything more about it, as I have already pummeled my author with an incoherent rant of praise, but please give my author the Yuletide they deserve!

and a Swedish Danish Finnish Fic of Glee!: Not the TV show, but rather the emotion, just in case you were concerned. I'm referring instead to Scandinavia and the World, and the excellent fic A Very Scandinavian Valentine's Day, about which I'll simply have to quote from my favourite canon relationship in this webcomic: Finland/Sister Sweden.

"She stood back up and began circling him, watching as he tried to keep his eyes on her without moving too obviously." That is quite possibly the perfect ending to my Yuletide season.
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Nurgh. -howls-

    Okay, my head is splitting and it's only the bloody 22nd. It doesn't help that Christmas seems out to attack me this year: today I got four paper cuts wrapping presents for the entire family, have candle wax and pine sap in my eyes, rendering me bloodshot and looking like I haven't slept, and have my new Questionable Content shirt dusted with glitter from decking the damn tree. None of my favourite carols have been any help in this situation, and I would make eggnog and drink myself to death on it, but we don't have any cinnamon. Fiance arrives tomorrow, but I'm unlikely to be available, having just been invited to a Christmas party. Is it a bad sign that I'm more willing to attend this party and get a bit drunk than see the person I'm considering spending the rest of my life with?

     Gah, holidays; I don't know.

     Good stuff: I got birthday presents! Collected works of Dorothy Parker, a Radiohead album, some new Chuck Taylors (which you have to see to believe - I know you lot in the States get all the fancy colours, but it's not that easy in Hicksville), two new T-shirts. I'm actually feeling quite good about that.

     Have seen the family, and that's all very nice. We're more preoccupied with my sister's wedding in January than with Christmas, so it'll be a small one this year. Still, tell that to the paper cuts.

     My brother used up the family's bandwidth when he turned his computer on for the first time in a month and Steam updated everything all at once, so I'm at dial-up speed for an undetermined amount of time. No YouTube videos, so my review won't go out until later. No gmail chat, unless I'm patient and hover over the 'refresh' button. I barely got my Yuletide to load, but that's happened so I'm quite pleased with this incredibly slow machine.
     My parents recorded a six-part documentary about Monty Python, so I sat down to watch the fourth episode tonight. Five minutes in, the disc stopped reading. I reloaded the disc; this time it wouldn't even start playing at all, just sat there making grindy noises. I tried my brother's PlayStation (spending five minutes finding all the cables): repeated whirring noises this time, but no Python. This computer wouldn't read the disc either. It opted for occasional clicking noises and pretending to forget I was waiting for it to do something. This is unbelievably frustrating.

     Last night was the full moon. If it weren't for the cloud cover, tonight I'd be howling at it.
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