I don’t have words for, or the right to speak about, Haiti. So read Belleisa on her Haiti over at PostBourgie. This is not a political blog, so I can’t, and won’t, tell you what to do or think. But I gave money to Partners in Health, which has functioning health infrastructure through its Zanmi Lasante clinics, and whose founder is as passionate about Haiti, and about adequate medical care for the country as it’s possible to be.
I really want to like “Written in Reverse,” the first single off Spoon’s new album, Transference:
But I’m having a hard time with it so far. Let me add a disclaimer first. I love Spoon. “The Way We Get By” is an almost perfect expression of the complex emotions of everyday living. “Anything You Want” makes my heart hurt, in part because I tend to think the promise in it is either insincere, or one that the narrator has no intention or ability to fulfill. Britt Daniel writes these wonderful, precise lyrics: I can’t resist, for example, the geometry of “Tract houses / square couches / Short legs and / Square shoulders” in “Rhythm and Soul” off Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.
And, though this is rare for me, Spoon is one of the few bands where I can explain exactly what I like in their music, not just in the lyrics. The precise, jangly sound the band achieves on songs like “I Turn My Camera On,” has a fabulous cadence to it, it’s music for invigorating your walk down the street. The drumming isn’t complicated, and neither is the guitar, but they provide really good bones for the song, so all the little staticky flourishes and triangle don’t seem distracting. Is it any wonder Spoon’s music, with all its mathematical rigor, worked so well as the score to Stranger Than Fiction (another one of my favorite and criminally slept-on movies of the decade). Take a look at this first scene, where the instrumentals to “The Way We Get By” narrate Will Ferrell’s day:
Piano’s the backbone here, but the effect is the same. I hesitate to say the song is jaunty because of the melancholy than runs through so much of Spoon’s work, but I kind of think that’s what the tone is. Man, where was I? Right. “Written in Reverse” sounds a lot muddier than a lot of Spoon’s work, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I miss that clarity. And honestly, the lyrics are kind of mediocre. “I’m writing this to you in reverse / Somebody better call a hearse” sounds like “hearse” is chosen just because it rhymes with “reverse” and if not, it’s a kind of creepy-sounding threat. “I’ve seen it in your eyes / I’ve seen you blankly stare / And I want to show you how I love you / But there’s nothing there,” is both metrically awkward and is a sentiment that’s been done much, much better by, among other people, the Beatles. I realize that’s a high bar to set, but it seems like a weirdly uninventive lyrical conceit. Oh well. Maybe the other stuff will be better.
Chile finally has a museum dedicated to the victims of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, and unsurprisingly, the timing of its opening–before an election–and whether the museum is doing an appropriate job of speaking for the victims and their families are both the subjects of debate. I visited Santiago in 2004 and the fact that the only exhibit I could find on Pinochet’s regime at the time was tucked away in an anteroom at the Estación Central. I learned as much about the dictatorship from that small display as I did from listening to an astronomy professor who’d spent much of the dictatorship abroad on what he called a “Pinochet fellowship,” an academic position created to enable him to stay out of Chile during a time when it was dangerous to be there. It seemed an odd omission to me, but then, it’s a country where during the 1989 Presidential elections, some of the hot campaigning took the form of folks scrambling to spray-paint messages on strategically placed rocks along the highway. The conversation is elliptical rather than direct.
The whole uproar makes me consider to what extent museums of atrocities exist for people like me, who want to learn, and to what extent if any they offer comfort to the people who were victimized by regimes gone far enough away that their crimes can be documented and displayed. Certainly, I think the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, serves some of the latter function: Jews are sufficiently dispersed that it makes sense to have multiple sites for education, remembrance, and mourning. I didn’t get a chance to really discuss with any Cambodians whether Tuol Sleng, founded as a museum by the invading Vietnamese army as a way to discredit the regime they were ousting, was remotely useful for them. And ultimately, I’m not sure whose concerns should be weighed more. I think it’s probably much better to have sites open where tourists can learn more in formerly traumatized countries, and to have those sites feel like compulsory stops on any tour, rather than to have folks wiffle through completely unaware. But I do think it’s important that those exhibitions be good, and that relevant, and representative groups be consulted in their design and maintenance. I don’t think not trying to tell the truth is an option.
Apparently Jamie Vanderbilt, who wrote the script, is also writing the script for Spider-Man 4. Which is now an entire series reboot. I don’t think anyone will take it as a particularly controversial statement that I hated Spider-Man 3, which was overcrowded with villains, characterized by a weirdly soggy performance by Tobey Maguire, and stuffed with CGI that dated extremely badly. (Spencer Ackerman brings the noise on the whole triology.) So I’m honestly not sure I mind a reboot of the franchise. But I’m just not sure how quickly series like these can turn around. Are people sufficiently sedated by the idea of superhero movies that they’ll just…go?
There are quite a few movies I’m excited for this year. But the one that I’m most eager to see, and certainly the only one that’s tempting me to travel to New York for the opening, is also the most unusual on my list. Red Riding is a trilogy, made for television, about the Yorkshire Ripper murders, and based on David Peace’s novels about the crimes. And it looks fascinating, and gorgeous:
There are a couple of things that look compelling about this. The first is the cast. Across the three movies, it’s stacked. There’s David Morrissey, so fantastic as the morally compromised MP in State of Play, in all three parts of the trilogy. Paddy Considine, hilarious in a small role in Hot Fuzz. The always-excellent Sean Bean. Rebecca Hall, lovely and underrated in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The second is the directors. My love for Anand Tucker has a clear source. Julian Jarrold did a nice job with Becoming Jane, and the era in England is familiar to him from Kinky Boots. I know James Marsh’s work less well, but he’s got a track record with sensitive indies. In other words, this is a trilogy populated by fantastic actors from across the UK, about a serial killer but helmed, at least in part by directors who have payed intense attentions to the inner lives of women. It’s a fascinating combination.
And while I don’t handle horror, or extreme violence well, I really adore smart murder mysteries. The more I think about it, Zodiac may be my favorite movie of the aughts, with its trio of astonishing male performances, its clipped dialogue, and its sharp digital and blues and grays. I love State of Play for many reasons, but ultimately, it’s an extremely well-executed murder mystery. Prime Suspect‘s extended arcs work the same way, even if the crimes are more juiced and sensationalistic. The arc of a long-unsolved crime makes for good movies, but few of them either spool out in proportion to the length it takes to solve a murder, or manage to condense a years-long investigation into two hours without being absurdly choppy. Red Riding may be self-indulgent, or it may be amazing. I’m looking forward to checking it out.