Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Derailed on Realism

There is really one type of Tool Fan, the 'real' Tool fan, they get it where as all those other jerks 'don't really understand' the depth of the music, they are just there for the metal or whatever.

I'm proud to call myself a Tool fan and think its a massive achievement for a band to gain such a widespread supporter base that fails to identify with eachother. The IT type nerds with their glasses, aspergers and downloaded HD torrents of the Tool filmclips look down on the metal crowd with their tasteless black t-shirts, long hair, peircings and air-guitar playing antics, who in turn look down on the IT types. And it doesn't matter where you are on the spectrum, any variation is enough to earn the displeasure of a fellow tool fan. In a pinch a simple height differential will do.

But there is another source of division, that probably falls for the milder form of debate - 'which is the seminal Tool album? Aenema or Lataralas?' Both are great albums, both have killer tracks. One doesn't take itself seriously, the other does.

I'm in the Aenema camp, because it has these filler tracks and interludes that are comic, without them the album would be far too serious. I suspect there are fans of Tool out there that feel the opposite, they can tolerate 'Useful Idiot' as an intro for '40, 6 & 2' but they can't stand 'message for harry manback' they loved 'Die Heir Von Satan' until they discovered it was a recipe for cookies, or that Bill Hicks standup routine cameo's in a song. 'Hooker with a Penis' just removes the whole vibe of the album being serious and heavy with an actual track being an angry and hilarious rant against fan's that accuse them of selling out.

Lateralus is much more to their taste where the only joke track is the craptacular 'Faaip De Oiad'. The rest is a well intergrated start to finsih heavy musical experience.

I feel I would be in the minority of fans who think skilled artisans should inject some humour into even their most serious thesis', and certainly I wasn't always this way.

But I think there's something adolescent in the desire for 'realism' that is far from real. The idea that something is ever complete or a complete experience. Thus if anything for me Lateralus suffered from its perfection, if nothing else the annoying fellow fans and how much they jack off to it. Taken to an extreme this perfection creates blandness even in perfectly crafted music, art etc.

'Realism' is I use it is a malaproprism of 'mannerism' for lack of a better word. I use mannerism because it is michelangelo's artistic style and I think to someone who doesn't think much you could be captivated by one of Michelangelo's paintings or sculptures and talk about how 'real' it looked. I used to, but then when I look at them now and actually copied some of them, mannerism is all about exagerating and elavating what is there. The anatomy is all subtlely emphasised. Michelangelo's use of colour illuminates ordinary people that they look divine. He found a way of drawing eyes that human brains respond to as beautiful and serene but in no way accurately depict the construction of the eye. (as near as I can say it involved constructing the eye lid as dropping in at a tangent to the pupil of the eye instead of following the curve). You can recognise his works by and large by the eyes of his subjects.

But people would describe it as 'realistic' because the simplified and exagerrated characters resonate with them.

The real turning point where I think almost everything got 'derailed' by the 'realism' appeal was 1989's Batman. As a child I credited Tim Burton with reinterpreting Batman from campy and vibrant to dark and twisted. This is because I didn't read the comics at the time. But Burton and Nicholsan in effect did effect the comic movie market, as Batman was the biggest thing in the world in 1989. The soundtrack is Prince's second highest selling album.

But Burton was just riffing off Frank Miller's work in the comic 'Batman: Year One' which in turn was just a standard fair transplant of Miller's dark and gritty style he applied to Daredevil onto the face of Bruce Wayne whom in essence is the exact same character as Matt Murdoch/Dare Devil (in archetype terms). It doesn't mean the story wasn't clever or well written/constructed. But when I recently watched Burton's Batman from 1989 I found I liked it for the exact opposite reasons I thought I did.

It was the blending of the Miller-esque dark and gritty with the subtle influence of the Adam West 'Campy and Hilarious' Batman. Burton did it in masterful touches like the scene where Batman picks one specific batsuit from several identical batsuits hanging on coathangers. Or scenes where Bruce Wayne gets up in the middle of the night to hang from gravity boots upside down.

One could argue that silly scenes like these ruin what could have been a perfect run of dark gritty 'realism'. I think too much time has passed for anyone to care.

But many regard 'The Dark Knight' as the perfect realisation of the batman universe, I don't get it personally but people love Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker. It's hard to tell whether its the writing or the acting, but personally I think there's 'the Joker' character that combines incredibly sick with incredibly funny, and then there's the lazy version that is just some crazy random psychopath which is what Ledger brought to the screen. But people I guess love this Joker for its 'realism' in that he doesn't have the incredible permenant clown makeup disfiguration - just some chelsea smile scars and crappy makeup. He isn't motivated by humour he's just an anarchist terrorist. etc.

I think in the comic book movie world this dark gritty realism has invaded. X-men instead of being bedecked in the campy yellow lycra and out their costumes, just had everyone wearing more 'realistic' leathers and it was dull and boring. Spider-man clawed back the excitement for viewers, only to be crushed by The Dark Knight and Watchmen's 'realism'. Its a sheer intolerence for the ridiculous.

I don't know how to articulate it, but its more that - 'realism' is wholly uncreative and more often than not, done poorly. Directors, writers etc. will scrap the bright coloured costumes without shedding a tear and call it 'realism' and then not bother to write an actual decent story.

We respond to actors playing parts in the same way we respond to Michelangelo's art pieces, because they simplify and amplify what's there. Bruce Wayne or the Joker aren't 'realistic' characters. All manner of complex thoughts have been stripped from them to accentuate the basic motivations. Thus Batman is a simplified cop with a black and white view of justice, and an arrested development. Joker is just some crazy fucked up clown guy with no real motives or desires.

Those efforts that get remembered though, long after some bigger budget reboot buries the 'realisticly' dated 'masterpieces' are those that try to inject more humanity into the characters making them actually more realistic in that regard even though they may have them wandering around in the same campy costumes or with a bat head shaped grill attached to the front of a car.

Or indeed Iron Man, where they cast the semi-ridiculous but talented Robert Downy Jr as Tony Stark and had him fly around in a campy red-gold suit. Downey recieved no Oscar consideration for his perfect portrayal of Tony Stark because the caddish, rich, spoilt, immature tech company moghul isn't as 'realistic' as an amorphous psycho clown. Yet even with all the pure fantasy in Iron Man, people forget completely that the 'Iron Man' is computer generated, Robert Downey Jnr. isn't in the suit, but the audience buys in completely that there is a man inside it flying around and punching up terrorists.

I could move onto cartoons, and how they were derailed by a move from very unrealistic Disney and Looney Tunes characters to the realistically proportioned characters of the Scooby Do kids (except Shaggy, the only character apart from Scooby which anyone fondly remembers) right through to rap moving from the tongue in cheek 'Native Tongues' posse to the more 'realistic' Gangsta Rap, or the music scene in general which seems to have moved from alt-rocks exaggerated escapist moods and emotions to 'mellow' ball-less beardo-rock. The muted emotions of modern music being a reflection of the 'realistic' muted emotions of modern teenagers. Even Emo music is less angsty than the teen angst bands of old.

'Realism' as far as I can tell is a fanboys concept of 'perfect' and if you've seen a fanboy lately I don't think you want to live in their ideal world, given what they've done to themselves already.

As Yogi Berra says 'if the world was perfect it wouldn't be.' And that really would be the conclusion of any thesis on realism or how far deconstruction should go.

All of this could you believe it is preamble though, for tomorrow I am going to point out that the true tragedy of the 'realism' movement is that it creates an environment where Grant Morrison and Mark Miller are called 'creative' and 'geniuses'.

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