“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Destructive destruction

Let others debate whether that movie about a guy in a mask and a cape is the greatest political event since October, 1918 or merely the second greatest political event. Alas, I have a feeling it will go onto the roll of films that LI will never see, which includes almost all of the Star Wars films, the Indiana Jones films, 300, Titanic, the rest of the Batman films, etc., etc. I can only fill my eyes with so much shit, and then I get so tired. As one of my avatars said, restin’ her dogs, 'I have come from Alabama: a fur piece. All the way from Alabama a-walking.”

Myself, this has been my year of Sergei Parajanov.
About which, here’s a sad story.

Economists love the phrase creative destruction. They love it so much that they have labeled all the sick shit that ever happens in the capitalist world creative destruction. But however much we are told to rub up against the word “creative” and purr, the modifier doesn’t do much to clothe the dark goddess it consorts with. Destruction is destruction. And thus it is with my little pipeline to Sergei Parajanov.

Which was a small video store, Waterloo videos. It was an excellent store for me, since it was directly on my route to Whole Foods. The Whole Foods on Fifth street in Austin is maybe a mile from my apartment. I can bike there without breaking a sweat – well, not in the summer, but most other times of the year. And the route back is sixth street. Fifth street, at present, is a bubble casualty – up the length of 5th street they are putting in high price condos. It is evident, to me, that these condos make no economic sense – they are way too expensive for the Austin market, in which the median house costs 190 thou. Compare that to condos starting at 300. It would be different if there was some kind of land shortage around Austin, or if Austin’s downtown was a big employment magnet. Just the opposite is the case. The people who can afford these condos will, presumably, be working in Austin’s high end industry, which is tech – but the tech industry headquarters are fifteen miles from downtown. Which means that, absurdly enough, space for (as the mayor of Austin has put it) 25,000 high income people is being prepared in an area in which they will have to navigate traffic back up to the peripheries of the city. And of course navigate that same traffic back home. In return for which, they get zero land and striking views of ... other condos.

My brother has told me, often enough, that I take sour views of opportunities, and of course I am no urbanist, but I fail to see the rational design here. I see a daisy chain.

Of course, whenever the papers interview the owners of the condo projects, they are assured that sales rates are tremendous. Myself, though, with my evil eye, have wondered why, if these are sales to residents (rather than speculators), the traffic on 5th seems to be generated by construction vehicles; why there is no burst of overflow businesses – restaurants, for instance – to take care of urbanites who, presumably, are paying premium prices for an urban vibe. All of which brings me to the death of Waterloo videos.

Two months ago, I overheard two clerks talking about how the store was going out of business. I was astonished. But the clerks told me all about it. Except for the part they didn’t know – the reason.

Independent video stores are becoming rarer and rarer around the country. Here’s a story about my old stomping ground, New Haven – where the Tommy K videos are going under.Tommy K, in the spirit of creative destruction, is aiming at the new tanning market.

“Kelleher says he's not sure how long his remaining three Tommy K's stores will remain open, but predicts they will close within a couple of years. He is expanding the Tommy's Tanning chain, which he operates along with his brother Ed. The 12th Tommy's Tanning outlet is set to open in Vernon this month.”

Ah, tanning – now there’s a contribution to our general health and welfare!

So, why the collapse in the video store business?

“Independent video stores and major chain video stores are closing all around the country as more people watch movies via cable TV pay-per-view, computer downloading and online delivery services such as Netflix. Other factors cited include competition from video games and other types of online entertainment, the downturn in the economy, and the generally poor quality of movie releases in recent years.

"We're closing because our product has been commoditized," explains Kelleher, pointing out the wide availability of DVDs in retail stores and grocery store kiosks. "The profit has been squeezed out of it."

That’s an interesting pot shot of a list. Myself, I think the closing of video stores feeds into the increasing ignorance of the video consumer – this is destruction destruction. When studios build movies that cost about as much to make as it costs to run a small city for a year, they require those movies to dominate. However, as we all know, most other movies really depend on vid sales and rents to turn a profit. The vast majority aren’t batmans. However, as batmanian discourse drives out talk of other movies – which is what it is meant to do – it infects the vid business with the same monocultural tendency as the movie release business. Everybody wants to buy the batman vid, and nobody wants to take a header on the Parajanov vids.

Getting me back to Waterloo videos. I have three sources of information about movies I trust: Amie, our frequent commenter on LI; Masha, a Russian film prof I work with occasionally; and what I see at Waterloo. As it happens, Waterloo had what I thought was an insufficient section devoted to foreign films. But now that Waterloo is gone, I realize that its selection was monumental compared to even the one local vid store left, Vulcan video.

As I now know. I bicycled up to the Vulcan on South Congress yesterday, entered the store, and was immediately depressed. The shelving and display was not clean and well lit, like Waterloo – rather, the lighting, old crammed shelves, and smell in the air reminded me of adult vid stores I visited when I was in my horny twenties. I had to get used to a different classification system – and such is the conservatism of my first impressions that it struck me as not so hot. On the plus side, there was more Asian films, and on the minus side, there was such a paucity of German films as to fill me with grief and anguish.

However, I imagine I’ll get used to Vulcan eventually. But what happened to Waterloo video, which arose as a result of capitalism, was not a triumph of capitalism. It was a pure downer. A mercantile space is not just an arrangement of goods into which the consumer, a blank thing with a stock of blank appetites, enters to retrieve a commodity and leave a bit of dough behind. It is a primate’s nest, like any other. The clerks at Waterloo whose judgments I learned to trust, the contest (which consisted of a free video if you could guess from which movie came the phrase chalked up on the white board – I scored five free vids!), the milling of a certain clientele and their interactions, the way the classification system would navigate me to new things I didn’t know, all of these are not things that can be substituted for. In economics, there are only variables – there are no constants. In the real world, there are only constants.

We are ruled by the variable world. And every time it rips you apart, it shouts: creative destruction.

...
Okay, enough gloom. This is Sunday, which is LI’s day to do the weekend wrap on what is really important, what transcends even Batman – I’m talking, of course, about Britney Spears. The big news here, as we all know, is that Tarantino wants Spears to play in his remake of a Russ Meyer film. A remake of a Russ Meyer film... Of course, the anti-Spears press is announcing this like this is some big privilege for our Brit – it will “revive her career.” Well, we can just say Fuck you, media! to that. The career in need of revival here is that legacy of the nineties moment, Tarantino. That he desperately needs the vibe coming off the uber-popular Brit is something that Britney herself knows well – she sees them all come begging around, joking, like they are doing her a big favor. The MTV awards show (which is guaranteed shit ratings if they don’t make Brit a headliner), the washed up director. Her mother, god bless her.

“A source said: "Quentin is convinced Britney will be brilliant. She's delighted. She thinks it could turn her career around.
"It is perfect Tarantino material. He wanted to get Britney first. She's playing the most important character."
Spears had her first starring role in the 2002 film Crossroads, portraying a high school graduate on a road-trip to find her mother. But despite grossing $60 million worldwide the movie, and Britney's performance, was panned and she received Razzie Awards for Worst Actress and for Worst Original Song.”

"A source said" – how cheesy and disgusting.

9 comments:

Chuckie K said...

A post that twice brushed me with regret. One that City of Exquisite Sensibilities has been undergoing the very transformations I had assumed it would. In all honestly, I'm glad I left. Two, that the mention of Parazanov was but a teaser. Scenes from That Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors remin vivd in my memory after (oh lord is it true?) more than thirty years.

What is more worthless than tanning parlor? A tanning parlor in Austin. Can't afford a lawn chair?

roger said...

Mr. K, oh, just wait five years. You'll be able to rent a big, convenient condo space cheap!

I shoulda been specific that the tanning was a Connecticut thing - although they have them here in Austin.

As for Parazanov - I'd like to talk about Shadows, and maybe will, but - warning! - I quite suck as a writer about film.

Chuckie K said...

You were quite clear about Connecticut. But mahagony sorority girls soaked in baby oil always flabbergasted me. 'Cancer tans,' I categorized them.

They're building $180,000 condos on Main Street here, where there are neither jobs nor entertainment. Just franchise food chains.

Arnaud said...

"We are ruled by the variable world. And every time it rips you apart, it shouts: creative destruction."

This could have been uttered by Chad C. Mulligan:

We are breeding so fast that we cannot provide adequate privacy for our population. That might not be fatal... but we're undermining the alternative form of abstraction of territoriality, and deprived of both we're going to wind up psychotic in the same way as a good soldier.

and:

We can lean on a group of objects - a clever surrogate for a patch of ground - but only if they have (a) strong personal connotations and (b) continuity. The contemporary environment denies us both. The objects we possess weren't made by ourselves ... but by automated factory, and furthermore and infinitely worse we're under pressure every week to replace them, change them, introduce fluidity into precisely that area of our lives where we most need stability.

Stand on Zanzibar, first published in 1968, people!

Anonymous said...

LI, nice to see the family pics in the above post! The one of you crawling on the sand dune somehow makes me think of Beckett!
That's a shame about Waterloo having to close down. I remember being taken aback when Kim's video on Avenue A in NYC closed down some years ago, the place was practically an East Village landmark. I used to have a lot of funny conversations with the grungy bored hipsters who worked there with their attitude of having seen it all, at least all the movies. It being the East Village there are still a few decent video stores around. Kim's has another one on St. Marks Place, though that was closed as well for a while as the Law came down it for selling bootleg cds and dvds.
While thinking about that, I'm reminded that it's only a couple of days from the 20th anniversary of the day when the police came and beat up everyone in Tompkins Square Park. It was August 8th if I recall correctly. I wasn't there, that being way before my time in the East Village, but I've heard many stories from people who were. I've seen buildings in the neighborhood destroyed - remodeled, if one prefers - people forced to leave. One fine night I saw police helicopters in the sky and an armored vehicle on the street - I kid you not - all to breakdown a neighborhood squat. Creative destruction indeed.
I'm of course rather gratified that you trust me on films, but you have to know my limitations. At a tender impressionable age I walked into a Bela Tarr retrospective and saw them all. Damnation and Satantango twice each during a week. Those are films that know about destruction and then some. After seeing them, I often find myself in a film theatre and my eyes drifting from the screen to the exit sign and thinking how nice that there is a fucking exit sign!
Parajanov's films are not among those, and your post makes me want to see them again as I haven't in quite a while. And I don't buy your not being able to write about films! For example, you nailed the projected Tarantino and Britney collaboration on a film. A Russ Meyer remake, say it isn't so! I won't go on about QT, whose films I have to admit to not caring for much.
Your posts had me thinking of George Oppen and I don't have his books with me here in the south of France, but I remembered that I had posted one of them on the Paracritical Militia a while ago. So here it is. The title and the first couple of line are in italics.

If It All Went Up In Smoke

that smoke
would remain

the forever
savage country poem's light borrowed

light of the landscape and one's footprints praise

from distance
in the close
crowd all

that is strange the sources

the wells the poem begins

neither in word
nor meaning but the small
selves haunting

us in the stones and is less

always than that help me I am
of that people the grass

blades touch

and touch in their small

distances the poem
begins

( George Oppen, from Primitive, 1978 )

...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oEY1GCJgHFU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPZtqmK7CqY&feature=related
...

Amie

roger said...

This - "I often find myself in a film theatre and my eyes drifting from the screen to the exit sign and thinking how nice that there is a fucking exit sign!" - is one of the reasons you are my premiere film guide, Amie!

I shouldn't sound like I'm all against the b movie, or even the forgettable movie - I just saw ne le dis pas a personne, which rather unfortunately features the magnificently unscarred and nude body of its heroine in its first shots, and in the middle of the film, after a hundred improbabilities, wants us to believe that the central mystery turn around photographs of the heroine being severely mauled, to an almost surgical degree, by a villain, a week before we saw her unflawed skin - the mistake a child would make in telling a story. But fuck it, it was a pleasant evening, drinks and dinner afterwards... I used to be a much more nervous guy, and my best friend David started refusing to see movies with me because I'd get more and more agitated - according to him! - if a great deal of cretinism was unrolled on the screen for our enjoyment. Now, I'm a more sage like person, but I do know that longing for the exit sign...

I love the Oppen. Hey, at the end of this month I, like George, am fleeing to Mexico!

Anonymous said...

LI, a trip to Mexico, that's great, I hope the adventure leads to fun surprises. By coincidence, in this summer of golden coincidences, I'm hoping to undertake quite a trip at the end of this month as well.
Hey, I seem to have fallen prey to linking to vids on LI, and bummers and downers among them. I will cease and desist, but I'd like to post to just one more.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGa52pQ-z4E

Amie

roger said...

ah, my fave talking heads song! I saw them do that in New Orleans in 84, I think it was, the year of the Stop making sense tour. I was with a bunch of Republican doctors, a story too long and convoluted to explain, but Louisiana Republican doctors back then were connected to the seemingly limitless stream of cocaine coming into the country (there was a strong connection, via NOLA, with the contra distributers) and though I usually can't stand coke, that night I did a lot of it. And something else, too, which gave me a pretty vivid hallucination that I could predict the songs and the things they were showing on the screen. Hands, I remember a stream of hands. Back in those days, young Republican doctors were in love with Reagan's tax breaks and military policy, but they were also in love with drugs and MTV and the song of choice was And the days go by. So we all had our own ideas of fun, and had it. Same as it ever was.

roger said...

Oh, but I should put up a link for you to a Robert Wilson piece - because that dance with the lamp is so Robert Wilson like. Someone filmed Wilson's Quartett with Huppert in irritating bits. Here's one:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1K2PTw7Acw