Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Thoughts on the Aughts

As this first single-digit decade of the 21st century draws to a muted close, how do we begin to tie a bow around it? What has it been? What has it meant?

The first thought which comes to mind is that it may be the first decade to take away more than it gave back, considering the vast number of luminaries who have passed. This year alone: John Updike, Alain Robbe-Grillet, J.G. Ballard, James Purdy, Philip Jose Farmer in literature; Michael Jackson, Ron Asheton, Lux Interior, Bud Shank in music; Walter Cronkite, Don Hewitt and Paul Harvey in broadcasting; Patrick McGoohan, Gianna Maria Canale, Paul Naschy, Harryhausen producer Charles H. Schneer, Harry Alan Towers, composer Maurice Jarre, Ray Dennis Steckler and critic Robin Wood in film. This is not your standard obituary listing; it is a hemorrhage -- nay, an exodus.

In past decades, art has always been regenerated, but now, with the arts slowly perishing through a combination of factors -- lack of support, rampant remake-iana, inability to compete with the internet's onslaught of trivial communication and free access -- it seems that the gratification of soul that is the dividend of real art is vanishing from the bottom up, as death scythes the cream off the top.

For me, this past decade has been like an extended "time out" to explore work from previous decades that either got past my radar earlier, or was not previously available, or was not previously subtitled or translated, or needed to be re-read. I can remember joking during the '80s that everything needed to be put on pause so we could all catch up, and that pretty much happened. Here are some of the offerings this past decade that were especially meaningful to me...

Novels: Robbe-Grillet's REPETITION, Nabokov's THE ORIGINAL OF LAURA, Ballard's SUPER-CANNES, Theroux's LAURA WARHOLIC OR THE SEXUAL INTELLECTUAL, Pynchon's AGAINST THE DAY -- but the most meaningful, for me, aside from the one I wrote (THE BOOK OF RENFIELD), was GLIMPSES by Lewis Shiner, published in 2001. Honorable mention, if I may, for the completion of my 32-year project: MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK.

Films: Terry Zwigoff's GHOST WORLD, Charlie Kaufman's SYNECDOCHE NEW YORK, Lech Majewski's shot-on-video THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS, Jonathan Weiss' searing film of Ballard's THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION, Wong Kar-wai's 2046, Terence Malick's THE NEW WORLD, Guillermo del Toro's PAN'S LABYRINTH, Tomas Alfredson's LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

Some other 00's movies I loved or admired: MULHOLLAND DR., SIDEWAYS, LOST IN TRANSLATION, ONCE, LUST: CAUTION, ALMOST FAMOUS -- also THE DIRT, the short film starring Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, her best work to date. ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL continues to taunt me, such a near-miss.

Movies I saw this year for the first time that left a lasting impression: CHILDREN OF PARADISE (why did I wait so long?), FORBIDDEN GAMES, Robbe-Grillet's THE MAN WHO LIES, Frankenheimer's GRAND PRIX, Michael Blake's shot-on-video LAUGHING HORSE (an oddball, baffling showcase for the beauty of Irene Miracle, in her most enigmatic role), and the work of Myriem Roussel.

Music: For me, this decade was almost entirely retrospective in a musical sense. The completion and release of Brian Wilson's SMILE (a musical milestone yet somehow more tantalizing as uncoalesced puzzle pieces), DigitMovies' liberation of countless great Euro soundtracks from the CAM vaults, the Beatles and Stones remasters, some great Miles and Coltrane box sets, King Crimson and Pixies in 5.1 sound, the three-disc VILLAGE GREEN PRESERVATION SOCIETY set. But what made the most difference to me was my own postponed, deep-dish discovery of Fran├žoise Hardy, who did record several fine albums this decade. None meant quite as much to me as my belated discovery of her 1971 and 1996 releases, LA QUESTION and LE DANGER. I recommend the five-disc set 100 CHANSONS as the best starting point, if you can find it; it's the only place you can be exposed to all her facets.