Scott Ellington's Blog

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Thou Shalt Not Steal

Thou Shalt Not Steal.

David Milch sometimes refers to the source of creative inspiration as God.

I think that kind of talk is presently just a little bit inflamatory, so I just call it Culture. 

But I call it by that euphemism simply to shift the focus of authorship away from authors, authorities and the armies of people who are motivated by money and who aren’t creatively inspired while they’re busy dickering, suing, enjoining, litigating, negotiating and accounting for every last brass farthing they feel is due somebody and them. 

Lawyers, agents and accountants aren’t creating content while they’re busy dickering, but then neither are authors.  And that’s the point at which my perception of authorship diverges from the normal.  Maybe love is all you need and amateurs (amatory participants in the process of making art) drive the evolution/efflorescence of art while professionals impede those good things by professing a stake in the ownership of art’s artifacts.

The care and feeding of Culture, I think, requires the sacrifice of professional authorship to facilitate innovative collaboration (authorized and otherwise) as people who create art and people who appreciate it reach for more humane and productive means (than copyright protections) to compensate one another for engaging with and making culture Culture.

Mimi and Eunice cartoon courtesy of Nina Paley:


16 Aug 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Deadwood PD Blue, South

The titles sequence for Deadwood runs over the desultory perambulations of a magnificent, wild, sorrel horse, intersperced with fragmentary moments refined from crude life in a working gold mining camp.  The thematic score and visuals combine to set the tone for deep immersion in a very specific universe of rough pleasures, raw toil, rampant corruption and the fervent search for gold.  The horse will eventually become the agent of destruction of the innocent son of  Seth Bullock, the primary representative of law or order throughout the series.

The pilot episode of Brooklyn South erupts in cataclysmic urban violence with breathtaking suddenness as a sorrel-colored ungentleman (named Hopkins [as in Lightning]) begins his unbridled paroxysm of gunthug murder with a devastating punch to the face of guy who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Late in the third season of NYPD Blue, Andrew Sipowicz, Jr. is murdered while responsibly intervening in the violent celebration of two guys (wildcat capitalists) who are busily rejoicing in making good their escape from the scene of another recent crime scene.  This story of Andy J’s murder is told entirely confessionally, in retrospect by victims and cowardly observers, all of whom chose not to take a stand against the sudden intrusion of dedicated, random violence erupting in their presence.  It’s like, you know, stylistic variations of the same violent incident; transnarrative storytelling with virtuoso flourishes that fanthropologists and graduate students will probably be thinking about until hell freezes over (if anybody gets around to it).

Having a fairly literal mind, I’ve always read the horse metaphor as a beautifully fleshy manifestation of Unbridled Capitalism running amok in its pristine, natural, native environment, into which relatively-civilized Easterners intrude, bringing with them inappropriate attitudes and customs which the horse will summarily reorganize, and, in telling instances, crush, destroy, maim and render barely-recognizable (like William Bullock, as it eventually turned out).  But David Milch, in his commentary, thwarted my literalist read by indicating his consternation at the inclusion of a wild horse cavorting in the countryside…which kept me thinking despite my tendency to figure I’d read the symbolic significance of the horse well enough.  As it turns out, the horse probably didn’t die, but it’s worthwhile beating it, anyway, retrospectively and repeatedly, possibly forever.  And there is no such thing as well enough because 9/11/2001 marks a date of violent action like a pebble striking the surface of a pond, making ripples that flow from the moment of impact AND ripples that led up to it.

In his commentary for the pilot episode of Brooklyn South, David Milch remarks on Bill Clark’s frequent remarks about the manner in which violent behavior erupts, in Clark’s experience; suddenly, unexpectedly and often with breathtakingly disastrous results and unforeseeable consequences…kinda like 9/11.

So, I’m blithely cruising one of my favorite television shows with a couple of guys named Sipowicz and listening quite casually as one of them pointedly tells the other that policing starts and ends with paying attention to, and getting intimately familiar with

  • People,
  • Places,
  • The Things they do, and
  • The Times they do them

…and I’m reminded of the horse, the Hopkins massacre, and the murder of Andy Sipowicz, Jr…as a violent realization overcomes me…that David Milch and Bill Clark have been explaining sudden, cataclysmic outbreaks of fictitious violence based on real events for a couple of decades…and I’ve only paid attention to the action, when the requirement is to read the ongoing interactions of people, places, things and times.

I see the internet as one small step toward telepathy and one giant leap toward global Culture.  While certain sources of information feed my need for information, and other sources don’t, the internet is very like a gold mining camp in the wilderness, or a policeman’s beat in a community, or a medium in which violent action (that draws attention) erupts from persistent inattention to stuff that’s happening all the time.  Likewise, Milch sloughs praise and awards for being The Creator of television shows that grab attention away from real life in which Culture grows a-DavidMilch-per-minute.  I think he’s telling us to police our own areas with greater care, to invest redoubled attention in our lives, and to act with heroic-yet-conscientious decency.  The alternative is to remain fixated on politicians, celebrities, and media heroes — whose successes (which ironically bring celebrity and hero-worship) derive solely from their immersion in policing their respective areas.  I think he’s advising us to invest in our lives and not in our stars.  Dave’s Epistle to the Skells.

Sorry about the anticlimax.

I almost forgot to mention that Yvonne leaves a gaping, ulcerated wound in Brooklyn South.  Her mercenary duplicity and bottomless bitchiness match the trials of Andrew Sipowics, Senior, and she presents an excellent (though rarer) example of Milch-made antiheroine monsters written to spar at par with the demon-ridden guys (who absolutely do get more facetime, Wally).

15 Aug 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Max Headroom — Caveat Emptor!

My amazon pre-order of the 1987 14-episode series arrived yesterday afternoon.  I’m four episodes in, and loving it all over again, partly because of its distinctive voice and partly because of its incisive humor, but mostly because of the world in which its set — a world in which omnipotent corporations and massively corrupt media networks rule a hellish planet peopled by somnambulists, while pointless puppet governments posture constantly and all cops are incompetent goons.

Max Headroom represents a kind of cyberpunk vacation from or antidote for the Milch-mania (which I actually prefer) that leads me to sound, even to myself, like some kind of sycophantic, pro-cop, law and order freak.

It’s nice to shift temporarily away from my steady diet of crusading detectives and visionary police officers (besieged by slime-covered news reporters and hamstrung by counterintuitive bureacracies) to one heroic, hardhitting newsman (mired in zombie-cops and soulless corporate nazis).

The series is just as low-budget, sometimes-tedious, and primitive as I remember, but it’s especially gratifying (after 23 years of waiting) to actually follow a reasonably-continuous storyline (no commercials, no week-long waits, no censored profanities…) and character arcs I hankered-after so long ago.  (And the techno-mumbo-jumbo is probably lots easier now to translate into obsolete computer-speak.)

 I’m finding, as well, that this show made remarkably cogent and prescient observations about Twenty Minutes Into The Future of television, media and society from 23 years in the past.  And It’s FUN!

Important Update:  Conversely, by episode 8, the drawbacks of crappy acting, deplorable dialogue, an unrelentingly cynical and whining view of the future, and the gimmick-ridden speech impediment of Max,  himself, make this show increasingy difficult to watch and enjoy.  It’s as though inert material is accumulating in my imagination, and the longer I pay attention to Max Headroom, the more difficult it is to pay attention to Max Headroom, a titular character whose charm and utility as comic relief cease to entertain as his appearances come to annoy, and I’ve begun to dread them. 

What began as an almost-glowing pseudo-critique has become a serious CUSTOMER WARNING.

13 Aug 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Toy Story 3D

Good story.  The 3D effect contributed a measure of  irrelevant novelty that didn’t ruinously intrude on the narrative experience.  I look forward to buying the DVD to complete the set of three engrossing, animated films, and to prospect for nuggets of curiosity and personal interest — BUT I won’t be looking for an archival copy on iTunes and I won’t seek the deluxe BlueRay edition, nor the 3DTV version, because I think that’s the SUV of storytelling.

One pass through the film in a theater last Sunday doesn’t give me the right to wax all philosophic upside it’s head, but I noticed that the 3D stuff that came before the 3D film began (trailers and logos and promotional crap) moved me.  The involuntary acts of flinching were due to owls and bowling pins flying out of the screen and right through the fourth wall of the theater experience, into my sacred domain.  Well…I thought it was mine and sacred, because for sixty years the movie industry has largely avoided acknowledging the fourth wall and my place on this side of the screen.  Robert Mongomery’s 1947  The Lady in the Lake, near as I can figure, returned the investment of capital so poorly that the sustained use of subjective-camera in movies is like the third rail in subway hitchhiking; movies (and studios) that want to live long and prosper have avoided that technique asiduously.  

I say that realizing that exceptions count for something, and from time to time, Hope and Crosby, Bugs, Lou Costello, for example, address the audience directly, and 3D experiments since ’47 (generally centered on horror-movie special effects) dot the recent history of cinema.  The kicker here is that 3D and subjective-camera technique are extremely compatible with one another…you can watch the pitcher brush back a slugger from your seat off the 3rd base line or you can see that event from the point of view of the batter…3D and subjective camera optimize visceral and involuntary responses in an audience (until the audience habituates to the phenomenon).  They’re also entirely compatible with the fashionable idea that audiences communicate virally, automatically massing in staggering numbers to have their strings pulled by special effects that can take the place of a stimulating and provocative story.  No, they can’t.

There’s a 3D fork in the road of cinema up yonder.  It marks the point in the marriage of commerce and art where a lousy relationship gets worse.  Compelling content and the profit motive separate when money invests in sure things (like the autonomic nervous system that always makes you flinch when a beanball’s coming — even if it’s virtual).  Artists may be able to incorporate fresh technology (like a wireless HD clip-on camera [or an absolutely insubstantial PIXAR camera]) into storytelling, but cretive artists are definitely not the kind of sure thing money prefers to depend upon.  Some studio coercion is probably inevitable.

It remains to be seen whether people want 3DTVs enough to invest in the hardware necessary to play the software that’s coming in the wake of the stream of first-run 3D features.  It also remains to be seen whether people will want 3D software archives that may help them replicate the autonomic, visceral responses that Hollywood and pornographers will insert in place of compelling stories from now on.

There are probably a number of intriguing parallels in Toy Story 3 that mirror the careers of outgrown toys bound for the attic, day care center or land fill; but I’ll probably have to get a DVD copy to fully appreciate them.  I think the natural compatibilty of hot 3D and long-disfavored subjective-camera technique forces film schools to teach subjective camera use from the library of existing experiments like The Lady in the Lake, Dark Passage and With the Angels.  And eventually the studios will realize that content is king, while gimmick is only temporarily novel; so, in time, audiences and greenlights will demand meaningful, provocative stories (again).

The aim ‘is to be the only horror movie coming out that is not in 3-D.’
The producer of the coming film The Cabin in the Woods.

‘When you put the glasses on, everything gets dim.’
The director of Star Trek, which was a 2-D hit last year.

03 Aug 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments