Sunday, February 01, 2009

Form and function

It sucks to have both the grad student version of senioritis and the busiest semester ever. The result is a sort of binge-and-purge of late nights reading exhausting case studies and afternoons goofing off online. Throughout the week, it's a mad scramble to read and write assignments, and review material for exam study group sessions. Also, it does not help that two classes are heavy on Supreme Court decisions, which can be unnecessarily verbose.

Gods and Monsters somehow ended up in my Netflix queue. I'm not the biggest horror film junkie or early-film buff, so I'd never heard of James Whale. Apparently the story was loosely based on the life of the early Frankenstein films' director, who was also openly gay.

The movie takes place in the '50s, with Ian McKellen as the aging legendary director and Brendan Fraser as his gardener who reluctantly agrees to pose for one of Whale's personal projects.

The beauty of the film lies in its patchwork of scenes -- there are flashbacks to Whale's childhood, his wartime experiences, the heights of his early career. Then there are the nightmarish scenes of shadowy figures, appropriate both for conveying the imaginative capabilities of a horror film director and for a film about confronting the horrors of the one's history, existence, and future. It's a beautiful, if depressing, tribute to the hazy mirror that films in general hold to the human experience.

To counter that heavy blow (and to avoid homework), I finally watched Wedding Crashers. The premise is well known: two commitment-phobic buddies crash weddings to pick up chicks; one of them eventually falls for a girl. Most of the movie had promise -- it was funny and had quirky, bizarre characters and situations. I was disappointed in the ending, though: it was too quickly wrapped up with the predictable dramatic scene of every romantic comedy. (One of the many, many reasons I hate romantic comedies, incidentally. Why does there always have to be a very public rejection and a very public reunion, one or both of which is frequently at a wedding? It's a little annoying.) At any rate, the movie is hilarious overall.

Finally, to pretend I was sort of getting work done, I read The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters, which came to my attention while browsing the local indy bookstore's sale table.

I didn't love it. Didn't hate it either, it just didn't captivate me. I know Chip Kidd is supposed to be some kind of graphics design genius, but I wasn't impressed by his writing. There were sentences here and there that struck me as funny or unique, but ultimately not memorable.

The story itself is kind of crap, and fairly unoriginal: boy goes off to college, meets hot but disturbed alternative artist chick, and together they wisecrack their way through class with a professor intent on crushing their souls. But two things save the book: first, the tangents about the nature and role of graphics design in American culture. Those were succinctly but artistically-phrased insights into art as mediator, art as power, art as product. Unfortunately, there aren't enough of them, and there's way too much pontificating by the characters on artistic conventions and misplaceed fame. (How hip, to be un-hip. But I get bored with and easily annoyed by that kind of pretention....) I was also not a fan of the anachronisms; the story takes place in 1958, but there are product references that are out of place.

Lastly (and appropriately), the book cover itself is fun. The front cover is a rhebus; the title pages are chopped off at various points. And the sides of the book have phrases written on them that aren't readable until the book is opened. At first, I thought someone had written illegibly on the book, until I started reading and then happened to look at the sides; there are two different phrases superimposed, one read while holding the book properly and the other holding it upside down, which was why it looked like some stoned student had scribbled on the side.

It was pretty cool.

I can pretend I was doing homework by figuring out which parts of it are copyrightable, and where exactly the idea/expression dichotomony can be determined by statute....

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