I have not been watching enough television… no, no, no, that’s not right. I’ve been watching too much television (isn’t watching any television too much television?) – what I mean is that my television watching has been too unfocused. I waste my meager allotment of precious time with sports or my obsession with How It’s Made/How do They Do That/Modern Marvels (por ejemplo – do you have any idea how much work goes into making a tennis ball?). I want to stop that and start working my way down my Netflix Queue – especially the twisted obscure crap that feeds my imagination.
In that regard, I watched too similar (yet completely different) films that I’ve been meaning to check out. I finally came around and caught The Hunger Games on Netflix, and then, last night, stayed up too late and watched a wild and controversial Japanese film from a decade ago called Battle Royale.
I had not read the books from The Hunger Games and now, I’m know I won’t. I had heard a lot of good things and, sure enough, The Hunger Games was a well-acted, slick, excellent production of a popular story and it was a serious disappointment to me. It was simply too Young Adult for my tastes.
Then there is Battle Royale. People say that Battle Royale is the inspiration for The Hunger Games – though the Suzanne Collins claims to have never read the book or seen the film. The overall concept is similar – a group of teenagers trapped in an isolated area and forced to fight each other to the death.
However, there are more differences than similarities. The Hunger Games is a carefully calibrated teen vehicle where the most horrific aspects of the godawful situation are concealed and glossed over – making a tale which is unsavory on the surface palatable for the masses. Battle Royale, on the other hand, pulls no punches. It is an unfettered tsunami of death… a tornado of gore, terror, and raw emotion. It is deeply disturbing. The ultra-violence makes A Clockwork Orange look like Barney.
Both films have political overtones. The Hunger Games concentrates on class warfare in an Occupy Wall Street inspired tale of the wealthy versus the poor – the monied, powerful elite oppressing and suppressing the unwashed, starving masses. Battle Royale has a more subtle, complex take. It is, first of all, a conflict of generations. The young people are out of control – it starts with a student stabbing his teacher – and the older generation decides to take revenge.
It is the story of a traditionalist society unraveling, of personal vendetta and obsession, of child abuse and the sins of the fathers’ hoisted on the young. Above all, it is about the Zero Sum Game and the idea that none of us, really, gets out of this alive.
The Hunger Games is modeled after television reality shows, while Battle Royale takes the form of an adolescent fever-spawned nightmare.
The Hunger Games has beautiful model-like specimens of perfection running around in a well-lit carefully manicured park-like setting, while Battle Royale is gritty, dark and more than a little rough around the edges. Instead of a shiny bow and arrow, the contestants in Battle Royale are each given a random weapon – some useful, some not. Some get submachine guns while the hero gets the lid from a cooking pot.
The Hunger Games contestants are carefully selected and trained, while in Battle Royale a class of forty students (half girls and boys) are gassed while on a school trip and thrown together on an island with no preparation other than a cute, silly instructional video. That means they all know each other well beforehand – and the usual alliances, crushes, and hatreds of the young come forward as a matter of life and death.
The Hunger Games is broadcast as an entertainment for a worldwide audience… like the ultimate Roman Gladiatorial Extravaganza. It is a spectacle for and about the media. On the other hand, the Battle Royale itself is not even televised. The authorities seem to stage the Battle Royale mostly because… well, because they can.
One interesting section of Battle Royale is when the members of the school’s Cheerleading squad are shown hiding out in the luminous whitewashed lighthouse. They are organized, have set up a watch schedule, a kitchen, an infirmary, and have settled into what appears to be a polite, happy, domesticated, and insulated clique. They are shown cooking and carefully cleaning – wiping down the tables before a meal. However the horror of their situation is running right under the surface and all it takes is a plate of spaghetti eaten by the wrong person to set everything off. Minutes later, they have all slaughtered each other – with the last survivor throwing herself off the lighthouse into the rocks below. One exclaims while dying, “I at least thought I’d live until tomorrow.”
In a movie with an ensemble cast like this it is fun to try and spot actors you’ve seen elsewhere. Sure enough, playing Takako Chigusa (Girl #13) in Battle Royale is Chiaki Kuriyama who played Gogo Yubari in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Volume 1. I’ve always thought that the fight to the death between Gogo and Beatrix Kiddo is the best fight scene in pretty much any movie. It’s no coincidence; Quentin Tarantino is a fan of Battle Royale and based Gogo on Chigusa. I kept expecting Chigusa to pull a chain with a spiked ball on the end out of her weapons bag.
Now, the important question… what to watch next? I haven’t decided but I have it narrowed down to two that I have on DVR – Sharknado or La Traviata. They’re sort of the same thing… aren’t they? La Traviata is basically Sharknado plus tuberculosis.
It’s behind the Meyerson, visible from Klyde Warren Park. If you’re curious, it’s here.
“A bird in the hand was worth two in the bush, he told her, to which she retorted that a proverb was the last refuge of the mentally destitute.”
― W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil
“People who count their chickens before they are hatched act very wisely because chickens run about so absurdly that it’s impossible to count them accurately.”
― Oscar Wilde
“Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden.”
― Anonymous, Holy Bible: King James Version
In front of the Winspear Opera House, Arts District, Dallas, Texas
“Even so, there were times I saw freshness and beauty. I could smell the air, and I really loved rock ‘n’ roll. Tears were warm, and girls were beautiful, like dreams. I liked movie theaters, the darkness and intimacy, and I liked the deep, sad summer nights.”
― Haruki Murakami, Dance Dance Dance
“We feared that the music which had given us sustenance was in danger of spiritual starvation. We feared it losing its sense of purpose, we feared it falling into fattened hands, we feared it floundering in a mire of spectacle, finance, and vapid technical complexity. We would call forth in our minds the image of Paul Revere, riding through the American night, petitioning the people to wake up, to take up arms. We too would take up arms, the arms of our generation, the electric guitar and the microphone.”
― Patti Smith, Just Kids
“If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.”
― William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
Joe Barrington, American (Texas), The Headlines Screamed, Baithouse Disappears, 2000
If you are curious, it’s Right Here.
Here is Another one by Joe Barrington
“How do men act on a sinking ship? Do they hold each other? Do they pass around the whisky? Do they cry?”
― Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea
“He remembered the time he had hooked one of a pair of marlin. The male fish always let the female fish feed first and the hooked fish, the female, made a wild, panic-stricken, despairing fight that soon exhausted her, and all the time the male had stayed with her, crossing the line and circling with her on the surface. He had stayed so close that the old man was afraid he would cut the line with his tail which was sharp as a scythe and almost of that size and shape. When the old man had gaffed her and clubbed her, holding the rapier bill with its sandpaper edge and clubbing her across the top of her head until her colour turned to a colour almost like the backing of mirrors, and then, with the boy’s aid, hoisted her aboard, the male fish had stayed by the side of the boat. Then, while the old man was clearing the lines and preparing the harpoon, the male fish jumped high into the air beside the boat to see where the female was and then went down deep, his lavender wings, that were his pectoral fins, spread wide and all his wide lavender stripes showing. He was beautiful, the old man remembered, and he had stayed.”
― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
“…as the wind howled on, and the sea leaped, and the ship groaned and dived, and yet steadfastedly shot her red hell further and further into the blackness of the sea and the night, and scornfully champed the white bone in her mouth, and viciously spat round her on all sides; then the rushing Pequod, freighted with savages, and laden with fire, and burning a corpse, and plunging into that blackness of darkness seemed the material counterpart of her monomaniac commander’s soul.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
“You see? I know where every single book used to be in the library.’ She pointed to the shelf opposite. ‘Over there was Catch-22, which was a hugely popular fishing book and one of a series, I believe.”
― Jasper Fforde, Shades of Grey
“I must be in love with this woman, Sumire realized with a start. No
mistake about it. Ice is cold; roses are red; I’m in love. And this
love is about to carry me off somewhere. This current’s too
overpowering; I don’t have any choice. It may very well be a special
place, some place I’ve never seen before. Danger may be lurking
there, something that may end up wounding me deeply, fatally. I might
end up losing everything. But there’s no turning back. I can only go
with the flow. Even if it means I’ll be burned up, gone forever.”
― Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart
“There’s nothing in the sea this fish would fear. Other fish run from bigger things. That’s their instinct. But this fish doesn’t run from anything. He doesn’t fear.”
― Peter Benchley, Jaws
As always, I slept later than I wanted to and had to hurry a bit. I loaded my bike into the Matrix and drove to Forney, Texas for a bike ride.
Across the Metroplex cities and neighborhoods are establishing “Bike Friendly” groups. Where I live is Bike Friendly Richardson… one of the most progressive and active groups is Bike Friendly Oak Cliff… I’ve done a ride with Bike Friendly Cedars – and so on. These groups serve as advocates for the cycling communities within their areas – plus organize rides and other events.
Summer is here and the temperature is hovering up around the century mark. That’s not really too bad for a bike ride – you do create your own breeze.
Back at the restaurant, I had an excellent Shrimp Po-Boy. I hate to think how many miles of bike riding it takes to burn off the calories in a Po-Boy – but still….
I drove back home and installed my riding lights on my Technium (my commuter bike has a broken chain and I haven’t bothered to work on it yet). I had another bike ride to do in the evening.
Candy was going to a concert, so we grabbed a quick beer at Haystack Burgers – one of the rapidly growing number of establishments that serve a good selection of local craft brews (I had an El Chingon IPA from Four Corners). I stashed a folding chair in my car and parked it behind a Buddhist Temple – then rode a couple miles north to a taco joint where another local group would be meeting for the ride back south to a free showing of Dazed and Confused.
There is a well-known Austin-based chain of movie theaters, Alamo Drafthouse, that is building a new theater in Richardson at Beltline and 75. It’s pretty much finished and will open in August. To stir up excitement they are showing some free movies on a giant inflatable screen in the parking lot. The Alamo has a truck that contains some powerful ancient projectors they can wheel around for these events.
Back at the taco spot, I was an hour early and settled in to write a bit. Folks with bikes started to show up and after a while, right before I was going to walk over there by myself, they invited me over. We chatted it up a bit and then rode the short, interesting route back down to Beltline.
I stopped at my car and strapped the folding chair across my chest, bandoleer-fashion. It was spectacularly uncomfortable and stupid-looking, but it worked. I am going to have to figure out a better way to carry a folding chair on a bike.
There was a huge crowd for the movie. I had thought of getting something to eat and maybe another beer, but the lines were too intimidating, so I sat down, settled in, and watched the film. I had never actually seen all of Dazed and Confused all the way through – though of course I had heard of it. If you aren’t familiar with it, Dazed and Confused is a little comedy set in a small Texas town on the last day of high school in 1976 that has become an iconic touchstone for a generation.
I’m familiar with the times (I graduated in ’74) – though my high school experiences were much, much different than those in the film. What’s cool about the movie is the number of show-biz careers that started out in this little film – Linklater, Ben Affleck, Joey Lauren Adams, Milla Jovovich, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Parker Posey, Matthew McConaughey… and more. Even Renée Zellweger was an uncredited extra – “Girl in Blue Pickup”. I’m afraid Dazed and Confused doesn’t hold together very well as a complete work of art – there’s no plot at all – but it has a lot of classic, fun set pieces, killer soundtrack, and has its time and place nailed exactly.
And, of course, the classic Matthew McConaughey line – “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”
“Yes they do.” “Yes they do.”
Joe Barrington, Texas, 2000, Roadrunner with Lizard. Frisco, Texas
Dear Warner Brothers,
I am old enough to know what the Beep-Beep is covering up when the Roadrunner gets away from the Coyote.
“I am somewhat exhausted; I wonder how a battery feels when it pours electricity into a non-conductor?”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure Of The Dying Detective
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
“Invention is the most important product of man’s creative brain. The ultimate purpose is the complete mastery of mind over the material world, the harnessing of human nature to human needs.”
― Nikola Tesla, My Inventions
“Is it a fact – or have I dreamt it – that, by means of electricity, the world of matter has become a great nerve, vibrating thousands of miles in a breathless point of time?”
― Nathaniel Hawthorne
There are few things in life as much fun as falling down a rabbit hole.
Ever since Candy and I went to see Turandot at the Death Star I have been fascinated by the world of Opera and have been learning about it – if only a little bit at a time.
The only problem is that Opera is an expensive rabbit hole and I am broker than broke right now. But there are ways, there are always ways – to be cheap and to find stuff for free. One way to reduce the cost of Opera is to not see it live, but to find simulcast productions. The Met has a series of HD broadcasts and, right now, they are replaying old ones. I was able to score free tickets to a broadcast of Carmen a couple weeks ago, and really enjoyed it.
Before Carmen, they showed previews of upcoming broadcasts and I made note of the wild finale of Rossini’s Armida. Wednesday, after work, even though I was exhausted, I drove up into Plano to watch the repeat broadcast of the opera on a big HD screen at a movie theater there.
The Met’s production, with Renée Fleming and Lawrence Brownlee didn’t get very good reviews (from a Blog, from the New York Times) but it was more than entertaining for my uneducated ears. I especially enjoyed the ballet in the second movement (even with the odd tutu-wearing demons)… maybe that’s another rabbit hole. I enjoyed the singing more than I expected. I even enjoyed the hokey representation of the characters of Love (a young girl) and Vengeance (who looked like he might have been in Metallica) – battling over Armida’s soul.
I did some research into Rossini and Armida, learning that it is a late example of Bel Canto – a term I had heard but never understood before. The florid singing, the coloratura, is what most people, the unwashed masses, make fun of when they think of Opera – but in context it is beautiful and expressive.
I studied the story of Armida and Rinaldo. It’s a classic tale and the basis of many operas and paintings. The bare story of the opera is simple and melodramatic, but there are a few dimensions that I found fascinating. Armida is the classic story of a powerful woman brought down by love, and then jilted. But unlike, say Dido, she is not ultimately defeated. She does not kill herself. Struggling at the end between Love and Vengeance – she chooses the latter.
Slowly I build my knowledge and my repertoire. Oh, and I did buy tickets to the Dallas Opera’s live version of Carmen at the Winspear Opera House in October (the matinee performance on the 27th). The tickets are nosebleed –but I’m excited about actually going to see it live. There will be another broadcast performance on the 25th – in Klyde Warren Park, and I plan on going to see that too.
Doing the research on the styles and history of opera brought back one memory from the spiderwebby recesses in my mind. Prior to, say, 1800, the most prized voices were of the Castrado. In seventh grade (or so) I took a fairly serious (for seventh grade) class in music theory. I still remember studying Jazz and the Blues and having the teacher playing instruments behind our backs and having us figure out what they were (the sound difference between a trumpet and a cornet is hard, but can be done).
We did study a little bit about Opera and its history. The teacher mentioned the Castrado. But she said, and I still remember her exact words, “They had a special operation on their… uhh… throat when they were children that caused them to have high voices. They don’t do that anymore.”
Yeah, right. On their throats. I guess she didn’t have much choice other than to lie to us – those were more innocent times. It didn’t sound right to me, though. Something was wrong, and that’s why, I suppose, I remember her saying that to this day. I knew enough to suspect what the word Castrato meant.
But I couldn’t believe it. She had said “Throat” and that made some sense. Surely, I thought at the time, nobody would cut their kids’ balls off simply to make them sing higher for the rest of their life.
That was too horrible to comprehend.
I didn’t know.