Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Inevitable Death by Whale in John Huston's MOBY DICK

John Huston's "Moby Dick" deserves, I think, more attention. It really is not at all like Melville's novel, this is a good thing. It constricts the narrative, truly focusing on the madness of the whaling hunt, not simply Ahab's madness as he pursues the great White Whale. It is not a pleasant tale, but it is a powerful one.

Huston uses a dream-like camera at times, and directs the action that emphasizes the crazy atmosphere on a ship of whaling men far from home.The editing is also rather abrupt at times, but this only adds to the hazy feeling, as if the sea spray were constantly obscuring the reality. The sailors are not at home in the sea, which Melville's voluminous text loses by including so many whale details from so many men.

One of the most notable inclusions in the film are the scenes of the women as the boat prepares and sets sails. Almost entirely lacking in the novel, women do not get any large roles in the film. But if any more powerful images were needed of the madness of whaling, the faces of these women on film fit the bill perfectly. They know they are at a funeral, and they don't really look sad; they are angry, seething even, but can say nothing. In the real world of whaling, I'm sure women accepted their men leaving as the necessity of economics. But for us, and the art of film, whaling is not only brutal and unnecessary, but truly madness when done in wooden ships.

The second addition in the film that truly works is the use of music. From the haunting concertina at the beginning scene when Ishmael enters the whaling inn barroom to the haunting chanteys sung by the sailors as they progress toward their sure death, the music here completely works in tandem with the hazy shots and editing to unite the mood of dread that only grows as the film goes on.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

TREME: Musician as Myth Hero?

HBO has a great new series on called TREME. It takes place in New Orleans three months after Hurricane Katrina and uses the music of the area as the undercurrent to the lives of the people trying to deal with the disaster and following neglect. Timely in the sad way as another man-made disaster heads toward Louisiana shores, it is brilliant in so many ways. Though every possible problem and facet of New Orleans culture gets screen time, it is all put together that none of it seems out of place.

I bring it up here because of a review on the series 4th episode from NPR's music site. It's a good lengthy review, which brings up many of the issues about and in the show. Most of the piece is an interview with  a DJ about the lengthy music playlist from the episode. I quote here (my italics):


PJ: ..." And this: "Jazz hasn't run hot or cold since bebop. It just is, man." You want a piece of any of that?
JJ: I'm comfortable saying that jazz simply IS, without the "just" qualifier. There's no red-hot intensity of an actual movement anymore. The music is now a loose confederation of individual heroic quests, and heroes are the figures of antiquity. Jazz, however, is still current, but that's a different measurement value than it was during the heyday of bebop. As long as there's a need for freedom of expression, jazz has a base of operation.
Interesting use of words, I thought. Seeing the musician as the hero, on the mythical hero quest, into the unconscious, to deliver saving knowledge that transforms humanity, and then each subsequent musician as the continuing hero who has to perform that quest for themselves (and for humanity again) kind of blows my  mind. This makes every solo, every song mythical regeneration. What a nice thought.