Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Spring 2006 Semester Retrospective Post, Part 2: The Fun Stuff

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - Amidst all the thesis-writing and schoolwork I dealt with throughout the spring, I thankfully found some free time to devote to exploring the world of entertainment. This time, however, I'm not just talking about movies. I'm also talking about books (barely, since most of the reading I did during the semester was related to classes and/or my thesis), music...and especially Youtube.

Believe it or not, before this semester I had never really delved all that deeply into Obviously, I had heard about it, but I only really saw Youtube videos as embedded in, or linked from, certain web sites. I never thought to, you know, explore the embarrassment of riches among the thousands upon thousands of videos on Youtube; heck, I didn't even really know how much stuff Youtube had---how much nostalgia-inducing, pop culture IQ-enriching stuff this video site actually contained.

But here's another personal Jean-Luc Godard connection for you: if I remember it correctly, I think sometime one particular weekend in the latter half of the semester, I must have figured that I had made enough progress on my thesis that I could afford to slack off a little bit, and so suddenly, on a daydreaming whim, I decided to search Youtube for videos of Godard's great muse, the eternally appealing, talented and beautiful Anna Karina. Were those two song-and-dance numbers she performs out of the blue in Pierrot le fou on there? What about that sequence where she jealously looks at a photograph of Jean-Claude Brialy interacting with another woman to the jukebox strains of Charles Aznavour in A Woman Is a Woman? Both clips are easily available on Youtube...but did you know that the late Serge Gainsbourg wrote a TV-movie musical named Anna in 1967 just for her? I had no clue until I stumbled upon clips of this long-lost musical on Youtube. Particularly striking my horny fancy was the beloved Anna Karina singing "Sous le soleil exactement"---apparently her character is dreaming about some place under the sun (thus the song's title). In a previous post, I embedded the video into my blog, but apparently the video's been taken down (but not before I used a Mozilla Firefox add-on, Video Downloader, to save a copy of the video onto my desktop, yes!). But it was such a surprising discovery, and so damn irresistible---the director, Pierre Koralnik, doesn't stint on the luscious Anna Karina close-ups, oversized glasses and all---that the next few days I could barely go a day without watching it. That's what one might call a fog of obsession right there (although, rest assured, it certainly wasn't foggy enough that it obscured my focus on school, heh).

Since Karina's rendition of "Sous le soleil exactement" is no longer available on Youtube, here's a piece of biker-inspired music from the same TV movie entitled "Roller Girl"; she works herself into a frenzy in this energetic musical soliloquy:

Since then, there have been other cool discoveries: movie clips, comedy clips, concert clips, and music videos. And not just recent American music videos. Thanks to Youtube, I awakened memories of all that Chinese pop music I heard in my earliest years. I remember that, in Queens, there was a library that housed a whole batch of tapes from the popular Chinese pop singers of the time, and that I guess I liked the music enough to go to that library often just to browse their collection, look at some of the cool-looking covers, and pine to borrow some of them. Guess what? Some users on Youtube have actually uploaded some of the music videos of Julie Su, Tracy Huang, and others. And I found them and have watched some of them repeatedly ever since, just because it reminds me of some of the stuff I listened to as a little kid. I couldn't really tell you, of course, what these singers were singing, but some of it sounds pretty neat.

I've also discovered some new Asian pop stuff thanks to Youtube. Remember Faye Wong, that irresistible elfin woman who literally tried to rearrange cop Tony Leung's life after a breakup in the second half of Wong Kar-Wai's sublime Chungking Express? She is, for those who didn't know, a huge singing star in Hong Kong, and some Youtube users have actually uploaded various music videos and concert performances for viewer consumption. Here's one I enjoy: Faye Wong actually has some fairly interesting alternative music to her credit.

(See here for Chinese and English lyrics.) From some of the songs of hers that I've heard, she's actually pretty alternative in style, and this song, "Bu Liu," has a beautifully evocative use of electronic instruments that add immense flavor to this low-key tune, while the strings---hovering in the background at certain points, overtaking the texture at others---suggest deeper emotions. I'm sure some music fanatic out there would be able to come up with an appropriate comparison to some American or European artist or group (Notwist? Air? I am hopelessly out of touch with today's popular music); all I can say is that, to me, it sounds quite lovely.

Of course, I haven't only been dieting on Asian pop on Youtube; I've also discovered some cool old music videos from MTV's 1980s heyday (you know, when they used to actually play music videos on the channel). This one I like a lot (with a slew of qualifications, which I'll get to in a bit):

Remember Laura Branigan? She had a couple of big hits during the 1980s, then kinda fell off, surfacing occasionally in the 1990s and early '00s for concerts and some stage appearances before dying in 2002 from a brain aneurysm. This song from 1984, "Self Control," was one of her biggest hits. Call me tasteless, but I think it's a near-great song, dated '80s synthpop style and all, and it's amazing how much vulnerability and nuance Branigan's voice is able to bring out of the lyrics, even amidst the slight disco overkill of the production. As for this video: it was directed by William Friedkin, he of The French Connection and The Exorcist (and a lot of crap since those two), and while it too has its share of cheesiness---some of its sub-Phantom of the Opera visuals (years before Andrew Lloyd Webber conceived his bloated stage musical) might strike some as unintentionally funny, and maybe it is---I think the video has an underlying seductiveness to it that transcends its sillier elements (particularly the pantomime of an orgy that occurs midway through the video) and becomes simultaneously alluring and disturbing, appropriate to a song that speaks of someone who seems to live for the night, who seems unreasonably attracted to the seamier elements of the nightlife even as she realizes the trouble she potentially gets into ("A safe night, I'm living in the forest of my dream / I know the night is not as it would seem / I must believe in something, so I'll make myself believe it / That this night will never go"). It's nothing particularly deep, but I think it's powerfully suggestive---as daydream-inducing as the aforementioned Anna Karina video. In fact, it actually turned me into something of a "creature of the night": in the last few weeks of the semester, if I was around New Brunswick on a Friday night, I'd almost always feel a hankering to walk around the area at night (with a friend, of course) and perhaps check out a couple of nightclubs and bars here and there.

Of course, when it comes to Youtube, I can't forget some of the amateur videos and vlogs I've discovered. True to girl-crazy form, all of the users I'm currently subscribed to are women, but these women aren't objects flaunting their sexuality on-camera (within bounds, of course): these are idiosyncratic personalities, females you could imagine having lively conversations with. Some of them are physically attractive, too, which is certainly a plus in my book.

I'll highlight one of them for now:

This video is from HappySlip, the 'net ID of a Filipina woman named Christine who lives in New York City and has become an Internet celebrity thanks to her videos---which she apparently writes, shoots and edits all by herself---many of which poke fun at the weird habits of her parents. She's pretty, she's funny, she's multi-talented (she has played both the piano and the guitar in other videos of hers), and she's the first Youtube personality I subscribed to this semester. Granted, her comedy is more affectionate ribbing than edgy satire, but nevertheless, her videos are enjoyable in a relaxing kind of way, and I get a kick out of her caricatures of her parents. I can certainly relate---although even my mother has never tried to cut a roll of paper towels in half just to save money, as Christine's "mother" does in the video "Morning Meest." HappySlip, abbegirl, xgogobeanx, FilthyWhore, spricket24, LisaNova (who is actually now a cast member on Fox's MADTV)---all distinctive, colorful people that perhaps could only be found on Youtube rather than today's TV, which sometimes seems to prefer looks or sex appeal over brains or personality. (I haven't yet explored much on the guy's side of things; renetto is apparently a popular Youtube vlogger, but I haven't yet watched much of his videos except for an informal interview he did with FilthyWhore. And oh yeah, I haven't even watched the infamous lonelygirl15---not that those videos are real anyway.)

In short, the pleasures I've discovered from Youtube this past semester is, for me, twofold: 1) it's allowed me to indulge in nostalgia trips during those times when I don't feel like focusing much on the boring old present, and 2) more obviously, it's opened me up to cool video discoveries and the sometimes interesting people making some of those videos. I'd probably be way too camera-shy to ever dare to vlog myself; I prefer writing out my thoughts rather than stammering through them and embarrassing myself on camera. But if some of these people are willing to put themselves out there in that way, and can do it without looking stupid---more power to them.

Wow, that was actually rather longer than I expected. And I haven't even gotten to the other fun stuff this semester that I was planning to mention. Don't know if I'm going to be able to anytime soon either: judging from the e-mails I've been getting from my pre-Wall Street Journal internship residency director, the next two weeks is going to be nonstop work work work. Oh boy. So who knows---I might be out of commission altogether for two whole weeks, and thus unable to continue on with this retrospective. By the time I return from Temple University (I leave tomorrow), my drive to finish this might be gone.

Well, maybe no big loss. I mean, everyone knows about the distinctive virtues of the Talking Heads (More Songs About Buildings and Food and Remain in Light are great, exuberantly inventive stuff; Speaking in Tongues onward merely okay by comparison; David Byrne is one odd performer, and I love every idiosyncratic bone in his body). Most agree that Quentin Tarantino's near-Godardian Death Proof was the better portion of Grindhouse, an occasionally indulgent but cumulatively fascinating deconstruction of the experience of watching at least a certain type of grindhouse flick, one which dares to complicate our reactions to the supposed heroines (the second set of females who aren't exactly savory human beings themselves) and the villain (Stuntman Mike, who Tarantino and Kurt Russell dare to paint as both reprehensible and, at fleeting moments, sympathetic in a rather general way) so that the conclusion can be interpreted as either an ugly but inevitable and justified comeuppance or as just plain ugly. And most have already concluded that this current season of 24 has, after a gripping first four hours, dropped off in quality like nobody's business. It's been a disappointing year, but let's face it: a season like this was probably inevitable, because how long can you stay in one locale and kill off characters and attempt to top the previous seasons' high-octane action and boiling-under-the-surface emotions before it was going to start to feel played out? This year, 24 has felt really played out (even more so than Season 4, which now seems positively brilliant compared to Season 6), so much so that recently I decided to spend my Monday nights watching Heroes instead.

But all of that has been written about at length and more insightfully than I, I suspect. The vast riches of Youtube still have yet to be tapped by me, so I figured I might as well put some of my initial discoveries over the semester out there, just for the heck of it. I might have gone crazy this semester without music, movies, TV and Youtube videos to provide me with occasional moments of levity and distraction. Hopefully they still will as I slowly but surely attempt to step into "real world" shoes.

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