Thursday, June 10, 2010
Is It Really So Strange?
A few recent viewings of William E. Jones' documentary about Latino fans of Morrissey have brought to mind: Where was I?
As I try to study Morrissey & The Smiths I realize I let a few decades intervene & any reconstruction of what would have been is perilously provisional. My one justification is that in the period in which The Smiths released albums was also a period of extreme poverty for me & one in which I was establishing myself in New York City, in which I was remote from omnipresent media. How The Smiths would have helped me in such a dire situation is unknown, lost, alas. Listening now to The Smiths/Morrissey is pure nostalgia, for something I didn't experience, in which I can wallow in comfortably. I feel like I missed something wonderful. This would have been a tonic I would have craved.
It also reminded me of how technology has become part of the everyday experience. The soundtracks of our lives may be a different & richer experience than that which is viewed.
William E. Jones' film is fantastically delicate about the subject. It is done in a simple format of mostly talking-heads interviews, w/ an array of subjects from the deeply engrossed to the almost supercilious. As someone who knows zilch about the The Smiths/Morrissey I found it to be fascinating. Those interested in WEJ's films may find it of interest for its anomaly among his film work in being shot by him entirely, as opposed to the use of of appropriated imagery which distinguishes his work.
The film addresses the technological phenomenon of fandom. This is played out as well in tabloids & other venues of junk culture. While it can emphasize the tawdry & the fabricated (I think of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon books as an example of hateful wish fulfillment in this), what hasn't really been addressed is the potential for mass media being an actual conduit for change, or that there could also be an important message being conveyed (does mass media have to negate any gravity, any importance in its utterances?). In my august aloofness of utter solipsism I would assume it would be impossible, but maybe not.
This is touched on briefly in the Todd Haynes' film Velvet Goldmine, in a scene w/ the middle-class journalist Christian Bale confronting his mother w/ the fact that an emotional fissure in a stable straight life exists in the sensual, extravagant forms of glam rock pop music, confronting her w/ his ambisexual glam-rock music. He screams at her, "this is ME!" How can mass media, in this case, pop music. extend an message both general & unique? In both Todd Haynes' film & WEJ's there is an understanding that a social sea change can actually occur within the utter dross of mass media, that significant messages can leak through an otherwise rigid autocracy of mass media. Beyond any overt propaganda value, there are social values being stated. The everyday can be reconfigured, in rather seductive terms
While pop music now seems so utterly corporate, fascistic & tasteless to the nth degree, I am reminded that there is a potentially redemptive aspect in what is for the most part nasty business. & that it could have incendiary moments regardless of its economic structure.
WEJ's emphasis on the fans of Morrissey, as opposed to Morrissey himself, is an acknowledgement of the richness in each voice included. This is an admirable form of documentary which explores its depths rather than conforming to a schema. Its simplicity & directness could be seen as an essay in the morality of looking at the world & trying to extract meaning from it; documentary as a subject can be mislead by heroic tendencies, by an overreaching attempt to make a big statement, bigger than the subject at hand. WEJ's film is generous & kind, & lucky for us in our technological age in being able to watch it over & over again, which I imagine, for the fans of Morrssey, must seem like old hat. The song played over & over again, the near ritual of such a habit, so common as to be overlooked. Where are we? What does it mean?
Also I have to bring up the queerness of the subject. While there may be normative-heterosexual responses to Morrissey's music, Morrissey still reads as gay as Christmas (to use a very recherchez expression) in his brooding melancholy. I am so so sorry I missed this in my own brooding melancholic past.
In May I was in Los Angeles. One afternoon in Highland Park I stepped into a coffeeshop on York Blvd at 51st (?) to get an iced horchata w/ a shot of espresso (it was recommended). The song This Charming Man (the only song included in Is It Really So Strange?) was playing. I got goosebumps. As ephemeral as the occasion may have been, there was a grace to it altogether lacking, usually, in my estimation of the everyday. The sun was shining brightly, there were college-age girls giggling behind me in line. I thought: as precious as this very ordinary moment is, it is already lost to me. I took some photos but they alas are simply proof of lost time. How can one express happiness beyond its temporality?