The Week in Consumption, 11/9

Each week I take a look back at the items I consumed.

The Fire Within Director Louis Malle’s 1963 big leap forward. Maurice Ronet plays Alain Leroy, an alcoholic who decides to commit suicide. But first, he returns to Paris for a day and visits his old friends. Ronet doesn’t seem sick of the world at first. He’s playful, engaged. But as he reunites with old friends, and sees them carrying on in the world, everything begins to seem depressingly static. It culminates in an awkward dinner party, during which Leroy is offered alcohol, insulted by guests, and drunkenly lashes out in turn. There’s a neat bit of editing that has Leroy turning around in a loop as his mind jumps from one subject to another.

His friends, for the most part, seem familiar and warm but unable to really reach Leroy or speak with him on his terms. I’m not sure how the film managed to convey this so well, but it feels strikingly similar to what I go through when I talk to friends while being depressed.

This is (to my knowledge) the first of Malle’s films to use Erik Satie’s piano music in the soundtrack–later on, Satie’s Gymnopedie No.1 will appear over the end credits of Malle’s My Dinner with Andre.

The Exterminating Angel One of Luis Bunuel’s more tightly coiled films. A bunch of well-to-do folks arrive at a mansion for a dinner party, only to find themselves unable to leave the living room. As hours turn into days, the guests must learn to live with each other’s filth. It’s a lean film, only 90 minutes or so, well used. Bunuel claims that there are 20 repetitions of shots of dialogue, which give it a hypnotic quality. I don’t know if it adds all that much new to Bunuel’s body of work about the strange barriers that religion and class put on how we think, but I found it more effective, more restrained than most of his other work.Somehow it all works to give me a sense of genuine terror. There’s some technical sloppiness at parts. I saw a microphone sticking out from under a table at one point.

The Blind Side The book, not the movie. Michael Lewis is such a talented writer. Even when the structure of his books seems transparent, he’s usually got a few tricks up his sleeve. This is the true story of Michael Oher, a physically imposing, stoic kid from the wrong side of the tracks who gets adopted by a rich family and becomes a great offensive lineman.* Lewis uses this heart-warming tale as an entry point to his pet topics of economics and complex systems–or is it the other way around? Lewis uses three sections on the history of football strategy to set up some of the main conflicts and emotional expectations of the the story. For instance, the opening section is devoted not to Oher but to the legendary Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. This piece not only set up the reason why left tackles became so valuable, it also establishes one of football’s dark truths–its best players are often sociopathic. Although Oher is a supremely aloof, gentle presence for much of the book, many around him react as if he was just as ruthless and bloodthirsty as some other football stars, and fear it carries over into other sections of his life. Later, a section on Bill Walsh’s solution to facing linebackers like LT explains why the modern left tackle is so rare and valuable–but it also anticipates the problems Oher will have succeeding with a Walsh-like coach in high school.

* I’ve only seen him play 2 or 3 times, so I’m just assuming his greatness. Interestingly, he’s currently a rookie playing right tackle for the Ravens, not left. I don’t know if this is because he’s a disappointment or if the learning curve is really steep from college to the pros or what.

The biggest impact of the book was on my football-watching this weekend. Since we get a replay of nearly every successful offensive play, I finally decided to take my eye off the ball and just focus on the linemen. It’s very confusing, because I only have a peripheral understanding of a play’s success. I’m also not very good at picking up on patterns. But with practice, I’ll get it. I think.

The Importance of Being Earnest the 1952 film version of Oscar Wilde’s farcical comedy about love and impersonation, directed by Anthony Asquith. I think the actors served their material well, but there weren’t really any surprises to this film version–except for the piping on Jack’s white suit. Then again, do I really want a surprising version of The Importance of Being Earnest? The play still manages to suck me again every time, mainly because it’s easy to forget the exact way that Jack and Algy get out of their predicament.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle A 1973 slow-burning gangster classic, directed by Peter Yates (Bullitt), with sterling performances by Robert Mitchum as the title character (a low-level criminal) and Peter Boyle as a bartender who does crime on the side. The plot is basically the same as every single Jean-Pierre Melville movie: Coyle, who got busted recently and doesn’t want to go away, ponders trading in some of his colleagues in crime for time served. But because its the 70s, we get plenty of local color, some seriously odd-looking character actors, heist and stakeout set pieces, and the scummiest locations imaginable. I’ve seen a handful of those 70s films where The City Is Going To Hell–The Warriors, The Taking of Pelham 123, The French Connection–and I don’t know if there’s ever been a dirtier city than the Boston of this movie. Because Mitchum, as an actor, belongs to a totally different era, his presence conveys a man-out-of-time feel that really suits his character. Boyle, coming off of the surprise success of Joe (and right before the making of Young Frankenstein) has never been better.

Marvel Comics Essential X-Men Vol.1: Giant-Size X-Men #1, X-Men 94-119

This volume is a black-and-white reprint of X-Men from the beginning of Chris Claremont’s long and storied run as writer. The X-Men started as a ripoff of DC’s Doom Patrol. Both teams were led by an older guy in a wheelchair, and combined superheroic adventures with characters with low self-esteem, freaks who believed they were freaks. Mutants are different from many other superheroes. They were born different, not survivors of some radioactive incident. Their goal is to help protect the world, mainly from other mutants with ill intentions, but most of the time they have enough trouble just staying alive.

X-Men’s sales paled in comparison to the others on the Marvel roster. Claremont came in, revamped the lineup, and upped the emotional quotient considerably. The book reflected the characters’ marginal status in the industry.  Other Marvel creations were amazing, incredible or fantastic; the X-Men routinely lost fights, lost control of their powers, and proved death-prone. Most of them could even walk around the city without getting recognized!

But writing an action-packed yet reflective ensemble book poses a steep set of visual challenges. Clarement used copious word balloons to clue us in to his characters’ mental states, which crowded the panels. Penciller Dave Cockrum gave his creations a surrealist edge, but struggled with layout and detail work. When John Byrne joined the book as artist and co-plotter everything reached a new summit of clarity. His photorealistic drafts helped sell our heroes’ mental anguish and added an array of interesting angles. He expertly deployed space. His panels accommodated a half dozen characters at a time, but never felt cramped. His background art gave the series a life of its own, creating a more credible mansion, Savage Land, you name it.

Claremont has a habit of delivering crucial information as if we already knew it, which can be frustrating at first, but ultimately makes us question everything going on in the series. He’s never in too much of a hurry to fill in the blanks, either.* For instance, we’re introduced to Moira MacTaggert as Xavier’s housemaid. A few issues later, Prof. X casually reveals that they used to be lovers. Later, we learn she’s had extensive training as a geneticist, and has a huge lab on an island. Just who is this person, anyway?

* the sad decline of the X-books can be linked to the other writers’ desire to fill in those blanks instead of creating something new. There’s always some long-missing sibling harboring ill intentions, some villain insufficiently snuffed out.

It’s a lot of fun watching the characters become the people long-time followers know so well. Wolverine starts off as a rude guy with claws and a stolen haircut. It’s only over time that he rounds out into a mysterious badass. Cyclops, the lone holdover from the old X-team,  was a generic leader type, but his grief over a teammate’s death morphs him into the anal captain we’re familiar with.

The stories in this volume are not always entertaining–it’s basically a merry-go-round of villainy, with the X-Men continually relearning the values of friendship and teamwork. But the little moments manage to keep interest. Once Byrne arrives, the issues become aesthetic marvels of economy. And the best stuff (The Dark Phoenix Saga, for example) is yet to come.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.



November 2009
« Oct   Dec »

%d bloggers like this: