The Before Trilogy: Time Regained

The Before Trilogy: Time Regained by Dennis Lim (for the Criterion Collection)

The Before movies are often called “talky,” with good reason, but that tag gives short shrift to the sheer delicacy and precision of the actors’ body language, the degree to which these films are rooted in a subtle interplay of minute gestures and split-second glances. One sweetly telling moment happens aboard a tramcar early in Sunrise when Jesse impulsively reaches out, as if to brush a lock of Celine’s hair from her face, but just as quickly loses his nerve and withdraws his hand. And not a single word is exchanged in perhaps the film’s most heart-stopping sequence: squeezed into a record-store listening booth while a folk song by Kath Bloom plays, Celine and Jesse steal glances at each other, avoiding direct eye contact, smiling to themselves, fully aware the other is looking. The critic Robin Wood once proclaimed the scene resistant to analysis, calling it “the cinema’s most perfect depiction . . . at once concrete and intangible, of two people beginning to realize that they are falling in love.”

These two scenes were of some of the more “affective” moments I had with Before Sunset and Sunrise. The visual parts are lessened in Midnight, left to compositional prowess over the actions of the characters themselves.

Review: The Blaze – Territory (EP)

But that is where the EP may falter for putting so many tracks in one basket: do these tracks hold up without their visual counterparts? Could “Juvenile” and “Spark & Ashes” be heightened by accompanying music videos? I would answer yes: in an age where the single track is worthless, set upon algorithms and passive consumption playlists (exercise), the emotional resonance of all music requires more, and perhaps the music video continues its role of expanding the thesis first introduced by the track; from dance into reflection.

The Blaze - EP
The Blaze – EP

It’s a wonder that the modern dance music producer even comes out with an album, let alone an EP containing over three tracks. The dance music market desires the hit single, and likely some substantive remixes of that same single. The single will then be transported into Spotify/Apple Music to be inserted into various modular and algorithmic playlists that could not care less that one track or the other exists within.

For better or worse, Territory ignores the pitfalls of throwing several tracks into one collection (Pitchfork/Resident Advisor can’t cover several EPs spread over months, but rather offer only one brief piece of coverage in April; quick discoverability of the “B-side” tracks when offering the standard two track EP with possible remixes to sweeten the bargain; simply having several identifier names for several EPs to better establish the producer’s “brand”) and throws in four full tracks and two “texture” tracks for the listener.

Track Breakdown:

“Prelude” (3.5/5) feels as if it could have opened for a bizzaro-The XX album. Pulsing synths, a tinkling piano; this is not the typical track to open for most dance music producers. This opener establishes that while The Blaze may not be “heady”, they are not simply banger producers.

“Territory” (4/5) is crystalline clear, with sparse instruments over a very familiar-sounding beat; it is the prototypical rave song for dudebros and molly’d up life-lovers. It’s austere yet celebratory; the extremes in tone turn what would have been a very stereotyped sound into something with surprising substance (for a dance song). Determination and a tempered happiness makes “Territory” definitive to the tone of The Blaze.

“Virile” (4/5) is how I first discovered The Blaze months ago. Admittedly, I was particularly interested in the album cover: a man embracing the face of another, as the latter takes in the smoke of what may be a cigarette or (revealed in the music video) a joint. Here one can discover an important aspect of The Blaze (or at least what they are trying to project): that the dudebro music produced is looking beyond the typical “straight, white” dudebro, but also the assholes of many other races, nationalities and sexualities. The building synths and once-again familiar dance beat of the track drives a pitched down voice that is found throughout the EP; the ambiguity of the voice pushes the visuals and overall thesis of The Blaze: there is more that straight, white dudebro raving.

“Interlude” (3/5) still feels as if it was taken out of the B-sides of The XX. I can almost hear Romy’s voice echoing over the piano and the synths.

“Juvenile” (3/5): beat feels weak, seeking that “driving” motion that producers might emulate in order to get their song in a Nike running playlist. But the vocals tend to make up for these issues; the simple line by the pitched down voice, as well as the repeated whimpers in the last half of the track produce a positive emotion that I appreciated after a rough beginning.

“Spark & Ashes” (3.5/5) was my least loved track for the first couple weeks of listening, but after a few listens, this approach to the “driving” beat was wholly complementary of the great vocals and sidechaining effects that occur throughout the track. The halfway point has a build-up that feels better each time I listen to it; the looped vocal combined with the organic-sounding percussive melody became again very The XX.

Conclusion

The Blaze has found differentiation in their dance music through their visual process. I personally discovered them through their album cover for Virile, and later became very interested in their official album cover for Territory. With these two images in a vacuum, there is something very modernist in their depictions of masculinity; a type without protestant shame, comfortable in one’s skin and comfortable with those around them. The images of Virile and Territory tell two different stories of this comfortability (the latter may be more exclusionary than the former), but it is a story worth telling, and worth modernizing.

The music videos expand on these images (the covers are taken straight out of the videos like a screenshot), with “Territory” expanding EDM beyond Western borders into Algeria, juxtaposing the pleasure of dance with Islamic images, familial relationships, and back alley antics. “Virile” is more personal, depicting the relationship between two friends. If masculinity is not being eradicated by feminism, then it is evolving beyond the dated presuppositions of the 20th century.

But that is where the EP may falter for putting so many tracks in one basket: do these tracks hold up without their visual counterparts? Could “Juvenile” and “Spark & Ashes” be heightened by accompanying music videos? I would answer yes: in an age where the single track is worthless, set upon algorithms and passive consumption playlists (exercise), the emotional resonance of all music requires more, and perhaps the music video continues its role of expanding the thesis first introduced by the track; from dance into reflection.

The Blaze - Virile (Single)
The Blaze – Virile (Single)
By Benjamin Loyseau
Jonathan (left) and Guillaume Alric (right), a.k.a. The Blaze – Photo by Benjamin Loyseau

Editing Analysis: J.D. Salinger’s “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period”

There is a solipsistic self-righteousness to Smith’s outlook on the people that surround him: he is insulted by M. Yoshoto’s proofreading assignments and by two of his pupil’s less-than-stellar bodies of work. Yet his adoration of Sister Irma becomes a vindication of his existence, and more materially his ego: through Irma’s accomplishments does this character gauge his own worth. This validation is much needed after his pessimistic interpretations of his relationship with the two Yoshotos.

Using advice from Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”, I explore the usage – and subversion – of typical editing techniques designed to produce more effective writing and easier-to-read prose.

Browne and King advise that when using the first-person point of view, the character must be distinct enough to keep the reader’s attention, but not eccentric enough to make readers “trapped inside his or her head.” This issue can be characterized as one of tempering alienation: if the reader must deal with being alienated by every action or sentence that the first-person narrative produces, then the act of reading becomes laborious. However, as we see in Salinger’s “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period”, alienating the reader can produce an unlikeable sincerity; between the lines of the main character’s cynicisms exists a nimble exploration of ego and perception.

This nimbleness exists in John Smith’s lively descriptions of his actions and dreams, especially after having sent a hugely caring letter to his star pupil, Sister Irma:

I would listen, listen, listen, with my head in my hands–till finally, unable to stand it any longer, I would each down into Mme. Yoshoto’s throat, take up her heart in my hand and warm it as I would a bird. Then, when all was put right, I would show Sister Irma’s work to the Yoshotos, and they would share my joy.

There is a solipsistic self-righteousness to Smith’s outlook on the people that surround him: he is insulted by M. Yoshoto’s proofreading assignments and by two of his pupil’s less-than-stellar bodies of work. Yet his adoration of Sister Irma becomes a vindication of his existence, and more materially his ego: through Irma’s accomplishments does this character gauge his own worth. This validation is much needed after his pessimistic interpretations of his relationship with the two Yoshotos:

I gave away a lulu of a Picasso story that had just reached me, one that I might have put aside for a rainy day. M. Yoshoto scarcely lowered his Japanese newspaper to listen to it, but Mme. Yoshoto seemed responsive, or, at least, not unresponsive.

The limitations of the first-person viewpoint enhances John Smith’s perceptions of the Yoshotos as passive indictments on his quality of person. Throughout the story, Smith seems to be surprised how much he could trick everyone around him to believe he is De Daumier-Smith, but tempers his success with the anxieties of being discovered by his hosts and student for his true nature. In his world, these characters are obstacles to realizing his wants and desires for something more.

However, events such as Irma leaving the school or the revelation that M. Yoshoto’s school was not even licensed reveals a much larger universe that exists outside of his control and intellect; the first-person viewpoint becomes a powerful tool for exploring the limitations of human experience. With enough descriptions from John Smith, these characters are filled with thought and emotions, but we are left with the sneering descriptions and clever insults from Salinger’s first-person narrative.

Without overt introspection, J.D. Salinger invites the reader into the very limited world of John Smith: limited in length (at only about fifteen pages long), limited in scope (about two or three main settings), and strongly limited in point of view, as the reader is stuck in the head of a 19-year-old protagonist, whose age may contribute to his lack of emotional intelligence and his bleak judgment on all those around him. But Salinger deliberately utilizes the first-person perspective to transform the broader world into an opaque glass that merely blinds the teenager instead of letting him peer in.

June Biking Trip: Florida to Washington D.C.

But each time I finished a 30 miler, I still felt I had the energy to do _more_; I just didn’t have the time, what with university and other workstuff. By the time of my graduation, however, I had no excuse but to spend the three or four hours per day to hit about 40-45 miles. I still had more energy, but now it was a mental barrier. Could I possibly spend 6 or 8 hours per day just sitting on a bike? I would need to be somewhere else, not just back at home. The want of _more_, added with the excessive amount of free time, led me to the conclusion that I should be going on a bicycle ride to my next home.

Need to improve my tarp setup.

Need to improve my tarp setup.

In mid-April I was playing with Google Maps’ biking feature, connecting Gainesville to Washington D.C. It was about 900 miles. Then I saw logistics for the Adventure Cycling Association’s Atlantic Coast Route, which is about 1200 miles. I looked over my calendar: after I graduated from the University of Florida on April 29th, my commitments would be relatively empty. By mid-July, I’ll be in Baltimore to start a position as an AmeriCorps-FEMA member, where I’ll be providing disaster preparedness support and logistics. Thus, for two months, I had a miraculous amount of time to do something worthwhile, something I would enjoy.

I was still only hitting 20 to 30 miles per day at that time. But each time I finished a 30 miler, I still felt I had the energy to do more; I just didn’t have the time, what with university and other workstuff. By the time of my graduation, however, I had no excuse but to spend the three or four hours per day to hit about 40-45 miles. I still had more energy, but now it was a mental barrier. Could I possibly spend 6 or 8 hours per day just sitting on a bike? I would need to be somewhere else, not just back at home. The want of more, added with the excessive amount of free time, led me to the conclusion that I should be going on a bicycle ride to my next home.

But May wasn’t to be; I was visiting my SO for nearly a week in mid-May. I decided to simply train during May, get used to camping with the bike, carrying all of my belongings in a couple panniers and a backpack, etc. Hit a consistent 40-50 miles per day, then hike up the mileage in the last week before going on the trip.

I decided that the full Atlantic Coast Route may waste more time and money than I would want: being along the actual coast would hike up primitive tent camping prices. Miles away from the coast, I found a KOA attempting to charge $35 for a primitive campsite. Wow! Instead, I want to focus my attention on getting past Georgia, South Carolina, and the southern part of North Carolina as fast as possible; I want to get closer to the Appalachian Trail, perhaps escape the feeling of Deliverance following me whenever I try to camp alone in the southern everglades.

The itinerary is getting set up: Start at Callahan, Florida, bike up into Georgia, get out of Georgia in two or three nights, through the middle South Carolina in a few nights, then get to Raleigh and see what’s up over there. I’ve used resources like “freecampsites.net” and of course Google Maps to find cheaper primitive sites; only $3.50 to get a three-day permit in Georgia, which is great. But South Carolina is proving more difficult; haven’t spent much time for North Carolina.

By the time I get into northern NC or Virginia I’ll feel a-okay about my progress. These are places I’m more familiar with. The “northern South” if you will (bathroom laws notwithstanding). I want to head right over to the Appalachian Trail area, see if there are any bike-friendly trails (and bike friendly campsites). Smooth sailing as I head to Harpers Ferry and down to D.C., where I’ll settle down and await my new position at FEMA.

The trip doesn’t seem to be long. Let’s say 60 miles per day: two weeks; 40 miles per day is four weeks. I’ll be leaving early June. Will get there mid-to-late the same month. Overall the plethora of time should allow me to relax. I’ll be much more relaxed when I’m past the halfway point. Past the two states that I have suspicions about (sorry South Carolinians and Georgians, but any states that put emphasis on vehicular culture tend to be unfriendly to cyclists).

I’m quite excited, it’ll be the longest camping trip I’ve done, and definitely the longest biking trip I’ve ever done. Since receiving my bicycle in late January, I’ve gone from fearing every minute of riding to loving it. I hope to express this love by extending it from 3 hours to 3 weeks. And being able to see more of the United States, along with the AT? I can’t say not to that.

Biking/Camping at Gold Head State Park

The Shower

The American shower is to partake in an accepted pleasure.

Kalinga’s showers were predominantly bucket-based, common for middle-class households in an outside of major Filipino cities. The city’s tap water flowed through the kitchen sink, the toilet, and a faucet located at knee-height in the shower room. The faucet, just like one found outside on American suburban homes, would quickly fill the multi-gallon bucket with – at best – lukewarm water; at worst, and mostly occurring in the lofty mountain village of Lubo, one would receive the chilly stream sourced from underneath the residents’ homes and farms.

The Philippine air was cool: at night one only needed a long-sleeve shirt, and day a light t-shirt. The showers may have been less of a stress if the morning picked up in temperatures more quickly; instead, an entirely apathetic breeze passed by as I entered the shower room with my bucket and towel, mentally bracing myself for the jolt of cold as I start with the top of my head, my face (I lean forward so the water won’t drip down and cool anything else), then down to my shins, closer to my privates, but always second-guessing the need to pour the bucket on my chest and tummy, which would jumpstart the beating of my heart and inevitably reach my nethers.

The act of showering via this method is defined by the thoughts of showering; I am undistracted by stray thoughts, and in other words, wholly distracted by showering as a process. The objective was to get in and out with as little trauma as possible.

Contrast this with the more distracted, passive act of the American shower, or in my case, the apartment-based shower (no water utility fees) with seemingly unlimited hot water – let alone the limitless water itself. Knowledgeable of this abundance (I have grown for two decades with America’s unending stream of warm water), the act of showering is modified. I am not seeking the end, but it’s prolongement; it is common to hear one say that the shower is the “one place” for tranquility. I can only agree by evaluating its functions: the nakedness, the wetness, the transition from “dirty” to “clean”; the American shower is ordained by its society as good but private, encouraged but hidden.

The American shower is to partake in an accepted pleasure.

And in its pleasure is one of thought. As the most typical configuration of shower schedule is to follow the morning’s waking up process (somehow the wetness, warmth, cleanliness is considered a way to activate one’s productivity during the day), the processing of dreams, stray thoughts, and tasks to be accomplished is initiated by the shower. The comforts of the shower not only encourages the pleasure of comfort but also a period of light processing before heading out the door. It should not be surprising that the term “Shower Thoughts” has been coined in the past few years as surprising ideas that stem from the idleness of the shower; mental associations unencumbered by external necessities may be explored to their logical conclusions. A feeling of accomplishment in mulling over minute details may be achieved; mental pleasure follows in its wake.

While I enjoy the prospects of the American shower, I cannot so much entertain its side effects of environmental unsustainability; the bucket showers accomplish their goal of the clean body, without the pleasure but also without wasted gallons. So my exploration of the American shower is to figure out its qualities, benefits and determine if they can be isolated beyond the shower; is it the water, in all its liminal symbology that allows one to come up with such creative processing? If not, then is there a way to achieve the meditative benefits of the shower without the water? Is there a modified form of reflexivity, understanding, awareness that we can employ in order to achieve a sustainable self-reflection?

For such a small part of our day, the shower defines so much of our culture, from sensuality, to cleanliness, health, privacy, aspirations, dreams, and spirituality. But it would be an important feat to decouple its benefits from the act itself, and be able to do the same acts anywhere, in any climate.

Editing Analysis: Jim Shepard’s “Minotaur”

Browne and King’s largest takeaway from the chapter “See How it Sounds” is that the rhythm and flow of both dialogue and narration is key to preventing the reader from being overly encumbered by the writing itself. Their idea of flow goes beyond “realistic dialogue” and instead into a type of literary conciseness that reads naturally, even if it isn’t fully grounded in reality. Jim Shepard takes this advice to heart by focusing on jilted dialogue as a centerpiece of a short story about miscommunication.

Using advice from Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers”, I explore the usage – and subversion – of typical editing techniques designed to produce more effective writing and easier-to-read prose.

Browne and King’s largest takeaway from the chapter “See How it Sounds” is that the rhythm and flow of both dialogue and narration is key to preventing the reader from being overly encumbered by the writing itself. Their idea of flow goes beyond “realistic dialogue” and instead into a type of literary conciseness that reads naturally, even if it isn’t fully grounded in reality. Jim Shepard takes this advice to heart by focusing on jilted dialogue as a centerpiece of a short story about miscommunication:

“You know Latin?” He asked.

“Do you know how long I’ve been tired of this?” she told him.

“I don’t know Latin,” Celestine volunteered.

“Tastes Like Chicken,” he translated.

“Nice,” Carly told him.

“I don’t get it,” Celestine said.

“Neither does she,” he told her.

“Oooh. Snap,” Carly said.

It is a challenge to insert four characters at once into a conversation for basic reasons of clarity, but Shepard transitions the bottom half of this conversation into small bursts of speech punctuated by “said”, allowing for both clear speaker attributions and the opportunity to extend the scene without resorting to beats or exposition.

The small bits of confusion expressed by the characters harken back to the famed West Wing screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, who was able to hybridize character exposition with dialogue by developing a sense of confusion for both the audience and the subjects speaking. Celestine’s “I don’t get it” coincides with the reader’s ignorance of Kenny’s patch, and Carly’s vocalizing of the patch allowed Kenny to explain to the characters and audience its existence in Shepard’s universe. We can already tell Carly’s curiosity about her husband’s work, Celestine’s ignorance, and Kenny’s matter-of-factness in just a few lines rather than paragraphs.

Carly’s motivation to acquire information is further explored through the lens of the first-person narrative of her husband, who was also able to gain character through informal narrative exposition. Words or phrases were italicized to emphasize the narrator’s personal thoughts his circumstances:

Not being able to tell the people you’re closest to anything about what you care about most?

Within this relatable informality, we are able to understand the perspective of narrator: content with his job’s acronyms and ardent separation from his home life, he is also content with being detached from the thoughts of his wife. The image he has created for Carly is based solely on her external expression rather than any kind of emotional intelligence; when she claims she is happy about her lack of knowledge about himself or his job, he takes it for face-value.

Similarly for the audience, we are limited to Kenny, Celestine, and Carly’s dialogue — and their direct interactions with the protagonist — to develop character images; the informality and confusion of the dialogue scenes relate to the main character’s limitation of perspective. He cannot understand why Kenny would sell him out for sharing his wife’s secrets, and by the end of the story repeats his face value interpretation of Carly when she accepts his apology. In other words, while the reader can enjoy Shepard’s command of natural rhythm and flow of wording within dialogue and exposition, we are also trapped by this flow, floating within the protagonist’s limited perception of the world.