Author Archives: slobdingnag

About slobdingnag

Slobdingnag, in real life, is an aspiring actor and playwright living in San Francisco.

Fitz, what are you doing with that burlap doll?

6, 5, 9, 3, and 4 consider how much post-apocalyptia sucks

6, 5, 9, 3, and 4 consider how much post-apocalyptia sucks

Internetlings,

In every genre, there are films that are remarkable not because they distinguish themselves from other films of that genre by doing something uncharacteristic or unprecedented, but rather because they adhere to the formula in such a way that it reminds the audience why the genre is worthwhile to begin with. 9 is one of those films. Critics of the film has justifiably praised its incredible visuals, but some have raised objections about the stock characters and predictable story line. Those criticisms are fair. The characters are more archetypal than individual. There are surprises and twists, but the audience still knows the story and knows where it’s headed. What makes 9 different from the sort of cookie cutter replicants that make a genre seem redundant is that director Shane Acker infuses the familiar story with the care and attention that restores our faith in the value of retelling. 9 breathes new life into the clichéd post-apocalyptic story by stripping away the excess and getting back to the core: the basic struggle for survival and the question of the value of life.

9 opens with the title character (voiced by Elijah Wood) – a ‘stitch punk’ to use Acker’s own term, or, to over-simplify, a walking rag doll – awaking in and abandoned house in a devastated city. Aside from a prologue featuring a terse voice over and the sound of gunfire, we, the audience, know just about as much of what happened as the protagonist. Both the audience and 9 are forced to draw their own conclusions as they explore the wreckage and encounter propaganda graffiti, bullet holes, war posters, and, of course, corpses (one of the first and most startling being the remains of a woman cradling a child in a bombed out car). In those first few minutes of the movie, Acker sets the prescient for what, perhaps, is the only truly unprecedented thing the film – the inspirational intricacy, imagination, and rawness of the visual elements. Critics have drawn comparisons between Acker’s aesthetic and that of Tim Burton, but unlike Burton, Acker purges the cute and quirky in favor of the sinister and alienating. Forced to see the world from the perspective of the diminutive 9, the audience finds the seemingly insignificant essential and immediate. The distance from a desk to the floor is insurmountable, a tin can becomes a place of refuge. Forced to renegotiate because of size and circumstances, the recognizable becomes distancing. For the audience, like 9, there is no place of rest, nothing firm to hold on to. Like the best of post apocalyptic film and media, in the world of 9, the things designed to make life convenient have becomes obstacles. Survival depends on fusing and reworking something into something else – a bird’s skull into a helmet, a broken razor blade into a battle axe.

9 and 5 spy more bad news coming

9 and 5 spy more bad news coming

This sense of uncrowdedness is carried wonderfully through the film as 9 discovers the other inhabitants of the world. As the story progresses, we are introduced to the other eight stitch punks – appearing in scattered pairs as each tries to negotiate the wasteland in their own fashion. Like the characters of many post-apocalyptic stories, the confederacy of stitch punks is held together more by necessity than by choice, but, unlike other stories, where the initial animosity gives way to sincere devotion and understanding, each character is more or less hardwired in their beliefs and behavior. They are archetypes, not individuals, but their rigidity is refreshing when one considers the absurdity (present in many other films) when one hardened character is suddenly a changed man after 24 hours in the presence of a hero. 1, the self-appointed leader (voiced by a terrifically icy Christopher Plummer), maintains a callous, siege-mentality survivalist perspective throughout, supported by the thuggish 8 (Fred Tatasciore), the most massive and least intellectually vigorous of the group. By contrast, 2 (Martin Landau), an aging inventor, and 7 (Jennifer Connelly), a principled warrior, are more eager to explore the desolation, looking for clues with the aid of the non-speaking twins 3 and 4, dedicated researches who communicate through eyes that flicker like projectors. Caught in the middle are 2’s apprentice, 5 (John C. Reilly), more cowardly and less independent than his master, and 6 (Crispin Glover), a withdrawn artist seeking answers in his own way.

6 drawing something weird and scary, most likely

6 finds time to express himself creatively even in the bleakness of the wasteland

As each of the stitch punks explores and hides, fights and flees, bonds are formed and broken and alliances renegotiated. As the film progresses, the group is pushed together not because the characters have changed, but because the circumstances are different. As threats multiply, so does the animosity within the group. With fewer options open to them every second, the stitch-punks become more adamant that their way is the only way to survive. Acker is also quick to demonstrate that there is value and disadvantages to each perspective – a time and a place when it is essential, and a time and a place where it is an obstacle. 9’s heroic idealism is as endangering as it is empowering in the same way that 1’s callousness is upsetting but necessary. 7’s courage and combative prowess is not always effective against the odds, while at other times the lumbering stubbornness of 8 reminds the audience when it is helpful to have a bully on your side. As an aspiring artist myself, I especially enjoyed the moment where 6, who lacks the more ‘practical’ fighting skills of 7 and 8 and the inventive skills of 2 and 5, intervenes at a crucial moment by making an appeal to the others that not all that is meaningful can be directly perceived, demonstrating clearly the importance of the artists’ perspective even in times of crisis. If the characters do ‘change’ at all, it is in the moments when they realize whether their perspective helps or hinders – alternatively tempering their courage or overcoming their cowardice for the betterment of the group. 1 and 5’s journey in this regard is particularly compelling as they recognize they have a different role to fill when things go from bad to worse.

8 faces some big trouble

8 faces some big trouble

And boy do they. In the fashion of all good post apocalyptic stories, things get much harder as the characters find fewer places to hide, fewer resources to use, and more things hunting them. The first beast hunting the stitch punks in the wasteland – a snarling, mechanical catlike creature – is only a prelude to a variety of other horrors that are unleashed as the characters probe more and more. Aside from a few flashbacks and one or two leaps ahead covering no more than a few hours, the story of 9 moves almost continuously from the main character’s awakening through the films conclusion, drawing the audience’s attention to the fundamentals of survivals and not burdening them metaphorical meaning or needless back story. Each scene is immediate and visceral: explore, run, hide, fight, run, rest, run, hide. In those lengthy, sustained chase and combat scenes, the questions the characters and audience have regarding the world give way to the present terror of the incoming threat. Unlike Burton, who always keeps part of the scary monster safely under the bed, Acker lets the beast right off the leash. While it’s probably a good bet that 9 will last at least until the end of the film, you can never be sure of anyone else.

Full-Length Trailer For Shane Ackers 9

5, 2, and 9 also face some big trouble

And that’s where the message hits home. Our fascination with post apocalyptic things does not have to do with death, but rather our fear that the ultimate death – global apocalypse, total destruction – is not final. It is tied up with our fear of the afterlife – that there may be no release, no rest, no reward at the end of our suffering. We are terrified and intrigued by the possibility that there are hardships and threats that transcend the worst of our imagination, that we survive something horrific only to be subjected to new horrors. The stitch punks in 9 are not responsible for the devastation of the world, nor do they seem to have much stake in it, much less a plan for the future. All they want to do is to live because that’s all there is left when there is nothing to live for. Today, we watch businesses crumble and see the crazies both home and abroad poised to tear apart society, we are drawn to those fundamental ideas of survival simply because its one of the few things left that we have some control over. The archetypal heroes of 9, struggling for control over their environment and control over one another, are manifestations of our conflicted, disoriented fight or flight, hero or coward response to our deepest fears.

In an era where most new films seeks to distinguish themselves from their predecessors by having more action, more effects, or somehow finding some new gimmick to set themselves apart from the endless stream that seems interchangeable from year to year, it’s encouraging to see something that stands out because it tells an old story well. Ironically, those other films fail to distinguish themselves because it is never a gimmick or twist that makes a piece of art worthwhile. The gimmick and twist is just a way to distract from the true lack of originality or imagination. The critics are right to praise the film’s innovative visuals, but the visuals are not what makes ‘9’, in my opinion, the best film of the summer. It’s the honesty – in the acting, in the writing, and in the fearlessness to do the familiar without worrying if it becomes cliché. Acker knows how to tow that balance beautifully. He combines the reliability of a tried and true forms in the characters in the plot that have become tried and true because there’s something in them that speaks to us with enough imagination and newness to whet our appetite.

-Slobdingnag

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Fitz, what the hell are all these vampires doing on the tele-vision?

Dot Comrades,

After a long silence, I have returned to careen down the superhighway of information like Vin Diesel in either the first or fourth installment of The Fast in the Furious. Or, given the infrequency of my posts, perhaps more like his cameo in Toyko Drift.

But now I can no longer sit idly by!

Blame the vampires.

Twilight. True Blood. That other WB show that’s not True Blood. Not to mention the Underworld prequel, Let the Right One In, or that upcoming movie with John C. Reilly in some crazy hairdo. Turn on any television and if you don’t see a vampire within thirty minutes, chances are your television is broken. We Americans are just like those poor, bumbling mortals in the aforementioned films who “never even heard of no vampires before, my goodness!” and are suddenly surprised to find that they are EVERYWHERE and they are MULTIPLYING.

There’s certainly precedent. Back in the late 90s-early 00s (what are we calling this decade anyway? The ‘o’s?), we had that flood of Buffy, Blades, Underworlds, Queens of the Damned, and that lamentable Van Helsing (thank God for X-Men, right Hugh Jackman? It was touch and go there for a moment). And then, another five years or so before that, we have Coppola’s Dracula, Interviews with a Vampire, and on and on back to Boris Karloff in the silent era.

Every year, there’s another addition to the inexhaustible archive of vampire cinema, but the drizzle has become a thunderstorm.

And, as those pasty, undead protagonists of True Blood and Twilight remind us in somber tones, glaring balefully at their suntanned, female counterparts “WE VAMPIRES ARE NOTHING LIKE THE LEGENDS YOU’VE HEARD ABOUT.”

Witch, please.

Listen, pasty-face, I don’t buy it. Legends are EXACTLY what you’re like. It’s just that our attitudes towards these legends have changed.

Let’s deconstruct this mother.

I don’t give a hoot where you Goth kids think vampires first came from, for all intents and purposes, Bram Stroker’s Dracula is the source of our modern myth.

Reader’s digest version: Dracula’s some uptight, thousand year old aristocrat with unusual tastes (décor and favorite food). He’s got lots of money, which he does not spend, but he’s always trying to get more. He is a leech, literally sucking the life force from others to survive. Dracula spends all of his energy taking what is valuable – blood, money – without producing anything of value in return. And that don’t jive with the hard working, good Protestant, industrial revolutionaries he’s up against. Nosireebob. He’s taken down by Van Helsing, the Harkers, and their friends – all bourgeoisie, suit and tie types who were able to ecru enough paid time off to leave the office for a week and save humanity. And why? Because he’s bad for business. He makes woman uppity. He makes men miss work.

If you’re Karl Marx, the ultimate victory in the novel is less about the defeat of Dracula but the triumph of productive capitalist, the worthy rich, over the undeservingly greedy. And that’s probably why it struck a cord with Stoker’s audience, who found themselves in an era where the dynamic was changing.

Vampires become popular again when our attitude towards money changes, and since each shift is different, so are the vampires. In the 60s and 70s, the beguiling but dangerous vampires embodied by Christopher Lee and Frank Langella cautioned against the temptation of riches during a time when material things lost a bit of their luster – either because they were unvalued or unaffordable. We enjoyed chatting it up and wining and dining with these vampires, entertaining the idea of sharing in their decadence, but knew in the end we would have to make do with less, tighten our belt, not buy the new car, and stake them in the heart.

In the late 90s and early 00s, where we were flushed with cash and spending like drunken sailors, the vampires of Buffy and Blade were things that deserved to have their asses kicked without a lot of conversation. There was never any question about the morality of killing when Wesley Snipes sliced his way through the ranks of the undead like Shaft with a samurai sword, we knew everyone would be better off with them gone. In this era, we derived satisfaction from watching the stereotypically disenfranchised – a teenage girl, a black man without a sustainable day job – sticking it to those rich-boy vampires because we thought we could spend their money better than they could. HO-UH! Take that, you stuffy, undead white guy! I trash your palace and kill you the second time, for real! Then I’ll buy some new sunglasses! SHA-KLACKY!

Of course, somewhere in that frenzy of living outside of our means in the late 90s and early 00s, we lost track of the fact that we were becoming more like the vampires and less like their slayers. WHOOPS! Now, with economy wheezing at rock bottom, we have to come to terms with the fact that we’ve been bitten. Like the vampires, we took more than we should without giving some back. And, as much as we know we should live frugally, the allure of our past recklessness, the power that overspending still holds is undeniable.

This is where the forbidden love of Twilight and True Blood comes from. We are trying to bargain with our vampiric past, insisting that there is something good there to hold onto despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We have selectively filtered out the unpleasant aspects of the ghoulishness. Our new vampires are restrained, polite, devoted. Gentlemen with the capacity to hurt us, but never the inclination. All the power but none of the danger. We do not have to abjure their company if we can live with them.

This is what worries me. Like the late 60s and 70s, we find ourselves in a time when our material reality falls short of our expectations. We say publicly that we know we can no longer drive hummers or get a small island as a year-end bonus. And, yet, we seem unable to recognize the monster for what it is, insisting instead that the world is wrong to judge us.

“No, no, no. You just don’t understand. I know he feeds off the blood of the living, destroying everything sacred and holy to quench his monstrous thirst, but he is soooooooo sweet.”

Yeah, well. Bite me.

-Slobdingnag

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God damn this infernal contraption! Fitz, fetch the abbicus!

Citizens of Internet!

This is my first attempt to rise like a Suyoz spacecraft into the blogosphere, and I barely made it. I was beset by befuddlement, overcome with confusion at the disorienting layout. It was like trying to suckle the water of knowledge from a fire hydrant.

Did I nearly fail at the simple task of setting up an account because I am an idiot? A mouth breathing ludite? Some San Francisco post-beatnik hipster rube obsessed with laughably outdated things like Shakespeare and 70s punk music!

No! I am not to blame. INTERNET is the culprit! TECHNOLOGY is evil and alienating and makes all into horrid little robot people who cannot LOVE and LIVE and THRIVE and REVEL IN THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD! O, for the days when man was free to run around in the open and slay the woolly mammoth with his spear! When we lived of the wild fruits and berries and sometimes died of dysentery because of them. When men were MEN because we didn’t use hand sanitizer and get carpel tunnel from typing.

Ranting about the evils of technology on a computer. How delicious. No one is as clever as I am. I am FIRST and I am BEST.

Please…

I understand the redundancy and irony.

And, I say to hell with it! DAMN IT TO THE BOWELS OF HELL!

Zounds! Filmflam! Hogwash!

REDUNDANCY is the whole purpose of having blogs, right? ENDLESS commentary on insignificant things. It’s not enough to have an opinion. You must have MY opinion, since MINE is important. ME ME ME! Blogs, as I understand it, are about NOISE NOISE NOISE NOISE NOISE! And I can make more noise than YOU!

LISTEN TO ME MAKE SO MUCH NOISE!

(At this time, Slobdingnang would like you to make as much noise as possible for a good ten seconds or more, wherever you happen to be. Slobdingnag would then like you to consider that, however loud your noise was, his was louder. He has a big booming voice from years of theatre training and a very special set of genetic proclivities that are probably linked to his ability to grow this really big old beard).

ENOUGH! I grow weary of this.

This is what I really have to say:

I am in a production of Aristophanes’ The Frogs right now (if you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can come and see it I suppose – http://www.atmostheatre.com). In the play, the god Dionysus travels to Hades to resurrect a playwright to save the arts. After judging a poetry battle between two great Greek tragedians, Euripides (ME! ME! I PLAY HIM! LOOK AT ME!) and Aeschylus, he decides to take the latter back to Athens. He argues that while Euripides is certainly clever and talented, Aeschylus has something to say.

There’s a line at from the play’s epilogue that I quite like:

“They don’t care whether their plays are art
But only whether the words are smart.”

I’m interested to hear how people react to this line. I think it can be applied to any form of communication.

What are we doing with this blog that is different? That is valuable? If there is nothing, WHY DOES IT EXIST AT ALL?

I want us to justify having this blog, so that it’s not just another receptacle for nonsense. (Or, if it is, it’s the finest god damn one on in cyberspace).

From this point forward, I will endeavor to honest as possible when I post, and speak when I have something to say.

See how long I keep to that.

Yours, until the unraveling of time,

Slobdingnang

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