To Fuss is Human, To Rant, Divine!!

Location: Vienna, Virginia, United States

A graduate of Dartmouth College (2005) and Washington and Lee University School of Law (2010). These are my personal blogs, and the musings expressed on them do not reflect the positions of my employer. They do reflect my readings, thoughts, and aspirations, which I figure is good enough.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A couple of thoughts on Indy 4 **spoilers**

Please don't read this if you haven't seen the movie and you don't want any of it spoiled.

1) On Sounds: The traditional John Williams soundtrack was woefully underused. And maybe I'm the only one who thinks this, but the problem wasn't that Harrison Ford looks different after 19 years away from the role; it's that he SOUNDS different. When I first heard him talk, it was like a different actor. I suppose it makes sense because voices change with age, but for me, that rather than appearance was the most jarring aspect of the Indy character in this movie.

2) On Iconography: There are two icons in the Indy movies - the relic Indy is hunting, and Indy himself. Neither is very strong in this movie. Most viewers will understand Western iconography more than . . . well, Asian or South American iconography, and therefore, it will resonate more. It wasn't a coincidence that the first two movies seem more coherent for their use of the well-known Christian icons, the grail chalice and the ark of the covenant (forgive me for that, as the ark isn't actually a Christian archetype, really, is it).

So when the icon in this one is a crystal skull (born of a myth created in 19th century Britain and perpetuated by 20th century new-age ritual, neither of which feature prominently, or at least, with much explanation, in the movie), surrounded by Meso-American/Southern American imagery, it naturally won't go over as well as the Western icons. Additionally with the Western icons, the treasure hunting is more familiar; descending into a church in Venice after reading a code out of stained glass resonates with an audience. Descending into a pyramid in Peru, not as much. Also, any puzzle solving relating to the non-Western icons will need more exposition, which is notably absent.

In addition, Indy himself isn't as strong a presence in this movie. In the two better movies, there's an inner search within Indy himself as well as a search for the treasure; in Raiders, it was his relationship with Marion. In Last Crusade, it was his relationship with his father. In theory, in this movie, it's supposed to be his relationship with Mutt but that's a bit lost in the movie, which is in part due to the lack of exposition, and also in part because of the re-introduction of the Marion character.

As if the lack of solid support around Indy to bolster his character wasn't enough, there was apparently reticence in giving Indy much in the way of action scenes. While he is certain in all the action scenes, Indy is really only at the center of a couple of them. And he uses his whip all of . . . twice? Three times? There's enough camera work on his fedora . . . but barely any on his bullwhip.

3) On Post-Modernism and Deconstruction: The movie is full of bits and pieces of the previous trilogy, as if scenes from those movies were like potsherds and cobbling them together could make this movie a new pot, or something like that. It doesn't really work. What ends up happening is that every once in a while, the viewer is jerked back into the past, by the sight of something from the previous movies, a camera shot reminiscent of Raiders, or the Ark itself, or pictures of Brody and Jones Sr. (a bit heavy-handed, that scene).

The only time it's effective is when Indy restrains Mutt before they explore a tomb, kind of a reference and yet not exactly a copy of when Indy restrained the Alfred Molina-character in the beginning of Raiders. The update was a cute reminder that this was still Indiana Jones on the screen. And a very necessary reminder too, because even though Indy scoffs at the suggestion that he's softened in his old age, there's clearly a "get off my lawn" kind of feeling to many of his lines.

The other times when the movie gets self-referential, it's actually kind of pitiful, which makes me think that when the filmmakers were making it, they wanted it to be purely nostalgic, and for us to understand that there is no going back. When Indy packs his case in this one (contrast with Indy packing in Last Crusade to go to Venice), it's not to go off on an adventure; his shirts are pressed, and he doesn't end the scene by throwing his whip and gun into the case. Indy is quite literally dragged into this adventure, and we're made to understand that unlike the heroes who ride off into the sunset at the end of Last Crusade, the passage of time turns all heroes into dusty relics sooner or later, until all they can do is find what happiness they can and pass the torch onto others who will continue the exploration.

4) On Espionage and Warfare: Spies don't really have any place in the Indy films; there's good and there's evil. So when we turn to the Cold War-era and we introduce a spy, it throws kind of a cog into the wheels of the film.

One of the romantic aspects of the previous Indiana Jones films was the idea that despite modernization (planes, trains and automobiles . . . see the red lines on the map, and the sheik in Last Crusade going ga-ga over the Rolls Royce rather than gold trinkets), there was always a place for Indy to explore, and somehow, something Indy would find there would be dragged from the past to have an impact on the present and future. With the introduction of psychological warfare, spying, and things like Red Scare, the relic that Indy hunts is less related to the present. It serves as an interesting metaphor, to be sure, and it's explained as a potential weapon, but the crystal skull hardly has the gravitas that the smiting power of the Ark and the immortality of the grail held. Indeed, it doesn't even look like the huge hunk of quartz has much heft to it when the characters handle it; shouldn't that thing weigh about 30 lbs?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Signal This: A Journal Completely Unrelated to Law Review, but Completely Necessary

I start this on the third day of writing my law review mini-note at home; the first day was spent finding my bearings, both in the library and in the law review material, while the second day was a revelation in several ways.

I put a status up on Facebook yesterday that bespoke of one of these revelations (the Facebook status is really a versatile doppleganger).

It occurred to me as I walked into the library the morning of the second day that something was wrong. Breakfast was sitting fine so it wasn't that, although the eggs on a roll would have been more palatable with some cheese, which is true about most food. I went upstairs, let myself into the personal study room, and turned my computer on. Then it hit me. I was in the library. One of the best public libraries in the country, of which I had vowed once to read the entirety (it was fourth grade. And I was used to a public library in Queens, NY which only let you borrow a certain number of books at a time. The first time I asked someone here what the limit was, they responded with a look and said . . . well, in theory, as much as you can carry, or something to that effect.) And here I was, fourteen years later, not walking around with a stack of books that I needed to peer around so as not to take out librarians and little old ladies (sometimes one and the same).

So I fixed that. I locked up my study room, went downstairs to the new fiction and new non-fiction sections, and went to town. I had to renew my library card, since I hadn’t used it in more than three years, having not really lived in this town for longer than that, but I did. And that in and of itself was renewing. For me, as well as for my library card.

I brought 7 books back up to the study room with me, where they sat and tempted me as I worked on trying to make a coherent note out of the law review cases. At lunch, I took one of the books, a free verse novel about werewolves in Los Angeles called "Sharp Teeth," down to the café with me, where I consumed a healthy chunk of it along with a bagel with lox and cream cheese, tomatoes, onions and capers, and washed it all down with a Diet Coke.

When I look around at my neighbors in the study rooms, I wonder if they have similar thoughts. I suspect not, from the lack of any reading that looks remotely pleasurable that they’ve brought with them. Some of them look downright pained as they work through whatever it is they’re slogging through. One person has been here every day that I have, and is evidently very restless. The first day, he was in the room across from me (all the rooms are glass-paned). The next, he was a room down when I got to the library. Today, he’s around the corner in the very back. It feels like he’s the king in a chess game slowly moving around the board trying to avoid checkmate. But he’s cornered himself now; I could probably check him pretty quickly, with a pawn and possibly anything else but anther pawn.

But when I go downstairs for lunch, some of the people reading down there look pained too. Brighten up people. You’re reading for pleasure. You should look like it. There’s no way you can enjoy what you read when you’re grimacing like that. There’s obviously something else on your mind. The first obstacle to reading comprehension and reading with any depth isn’t vocabulary; it’s concentration, and when you look like you’re being tortured, you’re probably not concentrating on the pages. I could have reminded myself of that more than a few times, probably, during the school year. I bet if I were being filmed or if people saw me in the library, I likely didn’t always have a placid look on my face.

I went home last night and read another book before going to bed (a new Weis and Hickman book; I keep reading their books in the hope that they write something good again - no luck so far), and also read the first chapter of a sci-fi book I picked up for its cover (it wasn’t worth it, and that says a lot because most books are worth reading in some way or another, even if it’s dreck so that one can appreciate a good book all the more, so I returned both of those books today). To compensate, I picked another one up this morning, a historical fiction on the Fourth Crusade written by some gypsy (no, really, that’s what the author note says; she was a former gypsy) and 125 pages into it, it’s proving a worthier choice.

Update: it's 10:00 PM and I have to say, it was a pretty good book. Kind of reminiscient of a first-person Edgar Rice Burroughs book I read once, crossed with most contemporary fiction that can't seem to exist without a partially-omnicient narrator.

It’s nice reading again. And I realize that I can do it while still working. I kind of knew this during the school year too, as evidenced when I got my book on cosmology and C.S. Lewis, but I didn’t really understand it.

I haven’t been myself for a while. I haven’t been devouring books at the pace I used to, and as such, I was starving. Law and the occasional pleasure read were somewhat satiating due to the mental stimulus necessary to engage with the material, but it didn’t make me feel quite as alive as I do when I’m reading at my normal pace. And I actually think my interactions with other people suffer for it; I feel like I had become a bit bland and colorless for that lack of stimulation in my life. I honestly believe that if one can’t enjoy some form of art passionately, whether it be literature, film, music, even cooking, one can’t live passionately. Maybe that's the problem in the profession I've chosen, and really, any profession that requires that much investment of one's time. I can imagine being passionate about the law (really, I can), but I think I'll need other habits too. I told someone cynically once that I thought law may be one of those professions where all your habits exist in theory. I was wrong. It doesn't have to be that way.

I've been collecting books the past couple years, as evidenced by my time in DC and my trip to Cape Cod, as I went with a large cooler of groceries and returned with a large cooler of . . . books. I got out to see the rest of the Cape, baseball games and beaches and all that, but I also went book hunting. But that’s not the same when some of those are books I had already read, or books that I bought because they were collectible.

The upshot of it is that I’m reading again. And law review doesn’t seem so bad for it.