Tuesday, February 28, 2006:

crash and burn

The Blasters -- I'm Shakin'
The Blasters -- Trouble Bound
The Blasters were a roots-rock band from the 1980s, a band that I'm surprised that the good Reverend hasn't yet posted. (I scooped the Rev? That's unpossible.)

"I'm Shakin'" is a Little Willie John cover, a snappy groovin' blues tune with saxophones. (Thanks, Jon)

"Trouble Bound" is a rockabilly tune with rollicking piano and some spot-on background harmonies.

They're both good examples of the Blasters' work, which seamlessly mixes covers and original tunes with a confident, uncluttered style.
[Testament: The Complete Slash Recordings (1981-1985)]

... My file hosting has gotten a bit wobbly. The UI, for one, has become unworkable in both Firefox and Internet Explorer; uploading and linking to a file is now a three-part process involving swapping browsers twice and usually watching one of them freeze. The bugs are being worked on and, with any luck, they'll be sorted out soon.

"That's not Haggis; that smells like chitlins."
"It's okay, Daddy; just put your hand over your mouth like this."
(image nicked from The House Next Door)

Here's some Haterade for Crash that I found particularly relevant, fun, and amusing.

And here's more, just because this movie has been bugging me ever since I saw it:

Maybe in L.A. bigotry isn't typically out front and center, unsubtle and undeniable--but in the rural monocultural high school I attended in North Florida it was. All the most popular students--the football players and the cheerleaders--were, with very few exceptions, openly homophobic, sexist, racist, and classist. I'll choose a fairly tame incident, the kind that supposedly doesn't happen any more: one year I had the same class as a fairly clever bigot. Nearly every day that year, he would ask me if I had my Green Card. He had an audience and it always got a laugh; the teacher overheard it and ignored it. I don't know why; I didn't feel confident enough to ask. And I also wasn't strong enough or fierce enough to confront the student--he was the kind sure to resort to violence--so I just did my best to let it roll off me. I perfected a blank stare.

I've forgotten the student's name, though I remember his permed mullet and his left earring and the day that he came to school with one eye solid red. I'd been out sick the previous day and then the next day, the day he came to school with a red eye, the student didn't make the crack about the Green Card. Instead, he sat there silently. His eye wasn't slightly bloodshot; it wasn't extremely bloodshot; it was pure red from iris to corner and from lid to lid, the red of ruptured blood vessels. It looked like something from a cheap horror movie except that it was actually horrifying.
"What happened to your eye?" I said, which pissed him off.
"He was out sick yesterday," one of the other students said--quickly--and the student settled back.
"I was in a fight," he said, still angry.
"With two other guys, at a bar."
"Tell him about the others," one of the students said.
"They got hurt too." He was smirking now. It was easy to say, I guess, with no one there to contradict him.
"Oh," I said. I nodded. And then I had to bite my tongue to prevent saying "did they have their Green Cards?"

Now, L.A. is not my home town, and my home town is not L.A. (and is, I'm sure, glad of it). But this L.A. in the film is probably also not the L.A. in California, out in that "reality" that people tend to go on about. The L.A. in the film rings false, and not just because of the constant ridiculous coincidences, but also because most people are not openly bigoted. The bigotry is a contrivance to present some drama and to give Haggis a chance to talk about issues he ostensibly cares about. So the movie makes a lot of noise about its characters' "complexity," but the kinds of things the characters eventually do--the good things, mind, intended to round them out as characters, to offset the bad--include not shooting people, not selling people, and not watching people die. These are not the kinds of things that the Nobel committee tends to award prizes for, though they might be unusual enough to deserve attention in Hollywood.

The biggest failure of the movie--and there are several to choose from--is that the story flirts with cynicism, claims to reject it, and adopts platitudes instead. The example that sticks in my craw most is near the end, where a black man discovers that the cargo hold of the stolen van he is driving is loaded with people. And so this man pulls over, and with all the predictable grandiose musical cues a hack could hope for, he opens the back of the van and sets the people free. Now, that's a bold ethical stand. This movie does not approve of slavery.

Instead, it approves of a laissez faire system which will fold undocumented workers into its sweatshoppy embrace until the DHS takes it upon itself to expel them for doing the shit work that Americans wouldn't do at those wages, daring to dream the American Dream without proper papers. All the character has done is make the minimal choice any decent person would make--refusing to sell people--and he's done it at very little personal cost. Yet this setting people free was, according to the film's narrative, something meant to add to the character's "complexity," some good to offset the bad. So the movie posits that character redemption is just as far away as one refusal to sell slaves.

I bet if we all try, if we stick with it and really try, we can be redeemed and fulfillingly complex by breakfast time.

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Official reason :
too lazy to rip the first Lp & Hard Line on mp3 ^~^

I see. I should have known better than to think I'd found something you didn't know about. :-)

re Crash: It occurs to me this morning that it might have been better to write about the film right after seeing it rather than months later. But, uh, I'm too lazy (or displeasure-averse) to watch it again just yet.

I didn't like Crash either, and I agree with all your reasons for disliking it. Hollywood has yet to met a platitude it doesn't like when it comes to race relations.

The Blasters' version of "I'm Shakin" is actually very similar to Little Willie John's version.

I have yet to catch up with any of Little Willie John's work; all I've heard still are covers. But the writings I read about John's original led me to think this one must be awfully different. There I go embarrassing myself again....

Thanks for the correction.

I lived in L.A. for three years, including during the riots of '92 when the city shut down and became a police state for three days. I can't say for absolute certain Crash doesn't accurately depict Los Angeles circa 2005, but I've visited a number of times since I lived there and don't think so. It's a movie. Like most, it's not only fictional, it's full of social fabrications. As a critique of American society, I'd say it's about as astute as anything by Lars Von Trier. (I.e., not very.)That said, I didn't dislike it.

When I first moved to Chicago from L.A., people would say, "Oh L.A., it's so racist," memories of the riots--or the media depiction of the riots--still fresh. Which was funny because I've never known a place as racially divided geographically--whites on the north side, blacks on the south and Hispanics on the west--and psychologically as Chicago. L.A. is, in my experience, less so. Neighborhoods and workplaces generally boast greater racial diversity.

To quote a recent editorial on "Crash" : "It is as much about Los Angeles as Woody Allen." I've lived here in L.A. for 13 years and don't know/have never known the people in this film. I think, from what I've read, this is just Haggis's attempt to come to terms with a carjacking (his) that freaked him out enough to start seeing bugaboos everywhere he looked. I mean, you are aware that the mansion used by the DA and his wife in the film is actually Haggis's home?

Thanks for the comments, Amy. I've visited L.A. only briefly and can't say much about it. I don't doubt that overt, in-your-face racism still exists, but I did have the nagging feeling that the L.A. in the film was wildly exaggerated for dramatic effect. I think most of it is more subtle: that brief flash of fear on looking up to see a black person, or the clerks who turn around and flash surprise to find that the person talking is black, or the all-too-typical "who was next?" when it's perfectly obvious to everyone involved who was next--things like that. I think there are plenty of more subtle examples that Haggis either doesn't know about or chose to ignore.

No, Robert, I didn't know those scenes were in Haggis' house, but that is awfully interesting. Maybe the film was just an extended psychotherapy session; too bad it's so muddled and, well, tries too hard.

Watching the Oscars now. The black man who doesn't sell slaves in Crash is Ludacris. Shows you how plugged in I am.

Roger Ebert in defense of Crash. It's an interesting writeup, thoughtful and generous, but I'm afraid I still don't agree with it. The movie continues to strike me as simplistic, obvious, ham-handed, and shallow where it pretends to be deep.

Yes, Haggis isn't interested in writing realist fiction, but he's chosen its clothes for his delivery, and I find wrapping an obvious parable inside it to be an artistic mis-step. The film fails on the literal level, leaving little more than a hollow shell telling things that most of us know already, and not even telling them with much subtlety....

I wonder if I'd like the film if it were overtly theatrical, like von Trier's Dogville.

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