Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The bustling campus

That is an excellent way to put it. I was thinking about this last week when it was my first week back to school after an extremely directionless, debaucherous, and slack-laden month that was the Holiday Break. During said break, I returned to campus a number of times to work...why I decided to do that, I will never know...but without digressing as per usual, I will simply say "Good GOD" at how depressingly vacant and dead campus is during Break. But now it is January 30th, the week following the season premiere of Spring Semester 2008, and campus is, as I said, bustling. Again.

I've made an unexpected return to the West Bank for two of my classes this semester. I figured, based on how many classes I had in Nicholson Hall during the course of 2007, I would remain there collecting dust for the rest of my collegiate career. But it seems that I must return to my roots and go to Blegen Hall, where the classrooms are so identical, that if you don't remember the room number of your discussion section/lecture, you could very well not realize that this is not your class until you hear the teacher talking about the principles of thermodynamics rather than Film Studies...yes that happened to me, once upon a time. Let's not go there.

I also find myself taking Global Studies again. Ahh, just like 20th Century history classes, a topic to study if you are truly masochistic. Not that all these classes aren't amazingly and wildly interesting, informative, and engaging, but you will NOT find a subject that reminds you how hopeless, pathetic, and ineffectual you are as an individual and how you are completely and utterly powerless to this system or these systems that make you feel this way. I wish I could say I love getting angry...well I do, but I fear for myself in this class. On Day Three, on Tuesday, my head literally hurt from the subject matter about an hour in. I have never gotten a full-on physiological response to learned material like that in my life. Now like I said, I fear this class because the vein in my forehead can only take so much protrusion and twitching. I would also rather not have an aneurism before I get my Bachelors Degree. Okay that's a lie: I HAVE felt a physiological response to learned material before. Here's what went down:

In my Global Studies class studying the Information Age that I took back in my sophomore year of school here at the U of M, we were on the topic of how the International Monetary Fund (IMF...NOT to be confused with the organization that puts food on Ethan Hunt's table and mind-blowing action on the silver screen) likes to butt-rape Africa in its spare time. I learned about many things during this but I only specifically recall learning about this occasion when a cheap remedy for some disease was developed down in South Africa and because of its remarkably low and affordable price there, the IMF banned it because it was quote-unquote "UNFAIR" to the corporations trying to secure a market in South Africa. The result? I don't recall the actual number, but MANY people fucking DIED because of this action to promote fair free trade. I couldn't wrap my head around this. Wasn't globalization supposed to promote global unity and peace, et cetera? (There will be more on this topic in the near future, I can assure you). So I left this class and I felt my brain trying to literally force itself chunk by chunk, out my ears so I could FORGET this shit, it was so infuriating. And I knew that despite KNOWING all of this, I couldn't do ANYTHING about it.

Now, that said, this new class is in the Hubert H. Humphrey Center (or HHH if you will), whose bathrooms are lit with this dull red glow because of the wall color that make me think of nothing but a porn theater lobby. I was expecting glory holes, but instead it was a very pristine environment to urinate and deficate within.

I also return to Folwell Hall which I have not stepped foot into since the Japanese 1011 Debacle of 2004. I thought I would leave that place never to return, but here I am in the Asian Languages and Literatures department studying Japanese cinema. Horray. No Miike or Kitano. How pissed am I? Well do you know the big grinning expression on the faces of your parents when you graduate high school? Picture the exact opposite expression on my face. And on top of that, my teacher (who an old friend of mine and her chums refer to as "Fanny Pack"...I don't know why either), looks like Oliver Stone and sounds like he has suffered from bronchitis.

I return to the auspices of Kjel Johnson in my Comedy: Text and Theory class. So. We learn about comedy. This is a good thing. I am surrounded by a lot of Cultural Studies-related students. How do I feel about this? Refer to my older post on that Department.

All this being said, I can't wait for this semester. Seriously. I feel like I'm actually going to learn a lot and despite the enragement I am sure to feel about one thing or another, anyone who reads this trifle of a blog will be used to it by now. Picture the exact opposite of a sneer and look of disgust on my face when I'm thinking about the coming months.

Wes Anderson

A teacher of mine here at the U of M, this guy in the CSCL/SCMC program named Kjel Johnson, once said when he and I were once discussing the finer points of the films placed in the Criterion Collection, that Wes Anderson could film himself taking a shit for two hours, place some French pop song circa 1966-1968 on the soundtrack, and people would call it a work of staggering genius, and of course, upon its release on DVD, it would inevitably be placed with hallowed status into the Criterion Collection, next to likes of The Third Man and Breathless (the original French one, not the horrid Richard Gere remake). This statement, while made to be a joke, is, to an extent, quite true.

Now before I continue on here, I must remind you all that I am fully aware of how bullshit the Criterion Collection is. I mean, for Christ's sake, ARMAGEDDON is on there, and as much as I enjoy the hell out of a good space adventure (even when flames seem to be able to exist in a vacuum in said adventure), the idea of a film directed by Michael Bay being placed next to the likes of classics like I mentioned before makes me want to vomit up the delicious Bruegger's Bagels "Everything Bagel BLT" I ate only an hour ago. Before I digress further with my hatred of Michael Bay's films, I must return to the topic at hand: Wes Anderson's films. We will skip past Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, by the way.

All right, so back in 2001, The Royal Tenenbaums was released to wide critical acclaim. And for pretty good reason: it's a good movie, with good acting, good writing, et cetera. The whimsical humor worked for me at the time, and the soundtrack, surprisingly, did not piss me off. It was a loved film of that year. However, we flash forward to 2005 when The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou was released, which I see to be quite possibly the worst film of that year. For Christ's sake, Revenge of the Sith was infinitely more gripping than that film. Life Aquatic was an exercise in unoriginality and pretentious "indie" filmmaking. First off, how many times, by that point, had we seen Bill Murray play the tragiccomic role that he was in that movie? A sad, schlub of a man, used to be "the shit" and now he's not and dealing with it through his own personal odyssey. Let's see...you can work that character into any other Wes Anderson film he was in previously in one way or another, and in regards to the odyssey he must take, can anyone say Lost in Translation (great film!) or Broken Flowers (somewhat decent film!)? Okay, so that's really just unoriginality at work. The more disturbing aspect of the film is the random Brazillian guy who plays David Bowie songs on his fucking ukelele and sings them in Porteguese. That is goddamn post-modern pastiche at work and just proves how trivial of a movie it is. Instead of making actually clever and funny jokes related to the narrative, Anderson (and the Wilsons) opted for writing in a character who just makes semi-vague references to a musician they like for yucks and giggles. Friends, I must make this clear right now and I will not repeat myself (because I am so certain that you are dying to hear my words): that is not good writing; that is a cop-out.

Okay. So Wes Anderson has failed...but then in 2007 came this lovely film, The Darjeeling Limited, a filmed disliked and even maligned by his fans. I still can't see why: it contains all the trappings of a great Wes Anderson film. It took a VERY large amount of self-restraint to not throttle this repugnant-looking indie girl outside of the Uptown Theater who said very matter-of-factly, "I thought Life Aquatic was SO much better." This film saved Anderson's reputation for me, honestly. Why was that? We had endured films by him written by the same people until now, that's why. This film was about change and moving on; if anything this film was VERY personal, especially with the blatantly symbollic scene at the beginning with Bill Murray being left behind at the train station in favor of Adrian Brody's boarding.

So the very itty-bitty optimistic side of me has hope for Anderson. Maybe he'll get the writers of American Pie to help him with his next movie. As absolutely bat shit as that may sound, I think it could produce something interesting, if not phenomenal.