For Your Consideration is a regular feature published on the first of each month (published on the preceding Saturday if the first is a Sunday) that lists some of my “picks of the month” in reading, music, moving pictures, and something random. These aren’t necessarily new or trendy picks, but they will be things that I hope you will find worth your time!
Another month, full of new possibilities. Let’s go!
Read This: Dark Times Filled With Light, by Juan Gelman.
The Argentinian poet Juan Gelman is one of the most famous and acclaimed poets in the Spanish language still at work today, and I doubt that there’s very much else I can add to this conversation, so I’ll simply do an advertisement paragraph. (Forgive me!) This collection translated by the late Hardie St. Martin serves as an excellent introduction to the poet, tracing his artistic development by presenting a selection of his work from 1956 up to 1992 in a chronological fashion. What immediately becomes clear is that it is a book, and a career, characterised by and even obsessed with themes of disappearance, loss, and yearning. It is also a poetry of great mastery. While the development of Gelman’s poetry (in terms of language use, technical ambition, and thematic interests) is clearly represented in the collection, what remains constant throughout the collection is his ability to tease out the senses of affinity, synergy, complicity, and opposition between beauty and anger, despair and hope, the political and the personal, and indeed the dark and the light.
Listen to This: The Tain by the Decemberists (perhaps best alongside a version of the text).
The Tain is an adaptation of the cattle-raid story Táin Bó Cúailnge from the Ulster Cycle of early Irish literature. It’s certainly not the first modern adaptation of this story, or even the first music-based one, but it certainly stands out in the way that it brings an electric vitality to a story so well-established and so canonical. The Tain is fairly enormous for a song and yet rather compact for an adaptation, running through five parts in 18.5 minutes. It bristles with a kind of electric energy, the kind of combustible chemistry and creative energy of a band yet to get comfortable in their skin. (This EP would lay the foundations for their subsequent efforts in The Hazards of Love and, perhaps still their best work, The Crane Wife.) The Decemberists are not in their finest hour here, still exploring ideas, still sometimes lacking in confidence, but this is also how The Tain musters a most useful contrast against its canonical source text. Its unwieldiness works to its advantage: it lurches and lumbers through the cycle in a manner that betrays its sense of artistic discovery. Sure, it’s at times inelegant, but you take the bite. The uncertainty and brashness that characterise the piece, coupled with moments of beauty, create a strange juxtaposition that breathed a strange new life to my imagination of the Irish epic tale.
Watch This: Inland Empire, directed by David Lynch.
I’ve always tended to see Inland Empire as the last in something of a spiritual trilogy (preceded by Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive). It’s a further entry into Lynch’s metafilmic and existential enterprise, but goes further down the rabbit hole than any of his other pictures ever have. It’s strange to write about Inland Empire now: I cannot remember events as well as I can remember images, sounds, moments. Yet, it is too easy to suggest that Inland Empire is part of a cinema of sensations rather than narratives. With its non-linear structure, sketching of impossible spaces, narrative loops, quasi-improvised script, and surrealistic or grotesque imagery, Inland Empire combines the surrealism of Lost Highway and the metafilmic theme of Mulholland Drive into a labyrinthine spectacle that challenges the language of film. That is to say, it challenges the ways in which we understand narratives in film, the pliability of the moving image, and the processes of signification as they occur in the vast majority of film, often pushing these aspects of representation to the brink of collapse. There’s no question I love my metafilmic or metacinematic movies, but rare is the film that takes an approach so extreme.
Bonus of the Month: Shadow of the Colossus, by Team ICO.
Something has happened to this girl in your arms, and it is clear that you’re the only one who can save her. You come to an old building, perhaps a temple, and a voice instructs you on your task. You are the hero. It’s what you have to live up to. Armed with a sword and a bow, travelling on horseback, you explore a fairly wide expanse in search of giant creatures that you will have to slay. There is no narrative explanation for their presence. They will receive no explanation of your violence towards them either. You are a hero. It’s what you do.
The first colossus that you encounter plunges you into wonder. Surrounded by trees, hills, and blankets of sand, it minds its own business. Nature, you think. You intrude on its space, charging on horseback, eager to make things right in your own life. If you wanted to, you could walk away. Explore the land. It’s a legitimate choice, if not an entirely fair one. You’ve paid good money for a game. You’ve got to see all it has to offer. So you climb up the creature, struggling as you do so. It doesn’t want you on its skin. Who would? Maybe it finds it ticklish. Maybe it feels threatened. Maybe it is simply angry. A glowing symbol marks a spot of weakness. It makes sense. A gameplay convenience, a sign from the heavens, it doesn’t matter. You stab it. It bleeds, a spurt of blood validating your logic. You are the hero. Not a hero. There is nothing heroic in what you are doing. After a back-and-forth battle, you finally bring the creature to its knees. With gathering pace, it dissolves into a darkness, a darkness that eventually catches onto you. You try to wrest yourself free, until it swallows you, and then you wake as if from a dream.
Then you meet another colossus. And another. Each act of violence is also an act of validation. This is a story of a man and his destiny. If you stop now, it would all be for nothing. So you don’t stop, until it’s too late.
But then again, it was already too late right from the start.