Welcome One and All

Welcome new vistors and thank you for returning dedicated fans. For more information about me please dig into my "About me section" or look at my G+. This was my first blog. I have rebuilt and specialized since this blog's inception. It now serves as a "hub" for the three blogs I write. Below this banner is "Welcome to the Club" which is my comics blog, "The Silver Screen" which is my Cinema blog, and "All the World's a Stage" which is my theatre blog. Read at your leisure!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The First Two Months... OR so

I am writing this to reflect a little both on the successes and failures of my writing as a I grow as an artist. Part of this blog is to just create a list in one space of the things I have written in the last two months or so. I hope you have enjoyed following me on my journey as I grow and develop. As always I would love for you to be part of the conversation. The more I work, the more I realize that I learn more from listening than speaking. Below will be a list of the successes and failures of all the writings I have done in the last month or so. If you have criticisms or compliments of this work I would love to hear them!

Welcome to the Club
This is my blog dedicating to researching and understand both the form of comics and what can be achieved in this form. Of the three blogs I write about various mediums this is the one I have the least understanding and experience with.

Post 1: Greetings and Introductions

In this post I describe my history with comics as a form and the reasons why I am interested in exploring and understanding the form. I think the largest failure of this post is it too general and not qutie focused enough. I am predominately interested in American comics. Even that classification is too vague.

Post 2: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

This was my first attempt at reviewing a comic for its ideas. I am really proud of my analysis that this story is primarily about the contradiction with the idea of "ending" Batman. I think this post's largest failure is the fact that it goes off and tangentials that interest and fascinate me as a writer, but don't get tied back to the major points I am trying to make.

Post 3: Daytripper

This was one of the longest blogposts I have ever written. It is amazing to me that there can be so much to talk about. I am proud of the attempt I made at organizing the thoughts and having subcategories to focus the writing. Writing about this made me realize how easy it would be to write a whole book or teach a whole class on sole work. The biggest failure is I didn't take a stronger stance on the ending of this book. I didn't like it, but I loved the rest so much I feel like  I needed to pull my punches.

The Silver Screen

This is the blog where I focus in and study cinema. It is also the blog that has the most posts and least reviews.

Post 1: Les Misérables

This is the first film review I have written in a long time. I am really proud at how deep into the tech. of how the movie was shot and recorded this review goes. This tends to be my weakest region so it was really great to think through some of those things. The weakest point of this review is when I went into my history with the piece and that was maybe a little boring and not needed.

Post 2: Steve McQueen Exhibit

This is one of the highlights of my blogging resurgence so far. Going to the Steve McQueen exhibit was such a new experience that I had so much to say about. I feel the biggest struggle with this post was figuring out how to describe the films while I knew almost none of my audience had seen them.

Post 3: Oscar Predictions

This was a short fun little post. Part of me wants to do more posts like this, but another part of me wonders the value in a post like this that lacks most analysis.

Post 4 & 5: Top 10

I have never done a top ten for a year in cinema. In my opinion this was not the strongest year for cinema, but the effort of naming the ten best and then ranking then was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I am really proud of the feedback I got on a lot my comments. Next year I hope to have more reviews for the top ten and therefore I can just refer to the reviews and not take up so much space.

Post 6: Intro to Concerning Canon

I am really proud of this list. It was more than a year in the making, but I would still love feedback on the films I am missing.

Post 7: 2001: A Space Odyssey

I really don't know how I feel about this work. Writing about something that is such a masterpiece seems so pointless. Especially something that has been written about by everyone. What profound is left to say? I like how I made this piece more about my interaction with the film than the film itself, but I worry this post got self-centered and boring.

Post 8: Oscar Recap

Man am I ready to not talk or think about the 2013 Oscars again ever again. This post was short and sweet. I feel like most of the points and arguments I made could have been made better and had more substance. I just wanted to stop thinking about the Oscars. I am ready for 2013.

All the World's a Stage

Post 1: Back on Track

This was the hardest and most critical things I have ever written about myself. I actually go back and read this once a week to remind myself both the rut I put myself in and to recommit to fully embracing my craft and my passion.

Post 2: Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind

This was such a fun show to see and write about. I felt this was the first time I really started applying the tool box I have been building in theatre classes the last two years for reviews. I got some parts wrong about the Neo-Futurist's process and that's a little embarrassing but that's life.

Post 3: Cher Show

This was a weird show to write about. Since it the cast was made up by mostly my peers and friends. I felt really uncomfortable sharing my thoughts, but I felt that made it twice as important. We are in an institution focused on learning and feedback is the most important part of our education process. I was really proud about the feedback I got from my peers.

Post 4: Marriage of Figaro

This was the beginning of the end of the idea that I was going to write about every play I read in class. I am really proud of how I wrote about this piece as well as the feedback I received from my dissection. I wish I dedicated the same amount of time to all the plays I have read in class. Tremendous value in doing so.

Post 5: Danton's Death

Not to toot my own horn but this was the best paper I have ever written for my theatre classes and the work I put into it really showed in my opinion. This was the first paper I have written since I restarted my blogging venture. I can already see the value and improvement in the process.

Well there's the first two months of the blogging in a nutshell. I have felt constantly that I am not writing at the frequency that I intended to. At the same time when I put it all in one place I feel proud of what I have accomplished. Once I get to next week (Spring Break). Hopefully there will be an explosion of writing.



Wednesday, January 9, 2013


I thought a long time on where this blog post should go. Categorically it provides a huge problem for my new system of blogs. On the one hand it is not specific enough to go in any of the new three blogs. This is blog is focused on a larger discussion of art in general. Therefore it is relevant to all three blog I post in. I considered posting it three times, but I realize a huge part of the audience still reads a lot of what I write and that would be annoying. I finally decided to post it here since this serves as a "hub" for my three blogs that are more specific. I realize this dilemma for most people ranges from boring to irrelevant, but it was quite the quagmire for me. Anyways let's begin.


Pretension is a word that gets thrown around in our society a lot. Last year when I saw Terrence Malik's The Tree of Life one of words used to describe it quite frequently was "pretentious" (mainly by the camp that hated the film). I personally thought Tree of Life was the best film of last year. The fact that it was such a polarizing film made me double down on my opinions because art at its best should elicit an extreme reaction (now I am only operating from my personal definition of art here). If the goal of art is to inspire and help make the world a better place then polarization is an example of art operating at a masterful level.

Art is best when it asks questions. Questions others can't or won't think about. Questions that society doesn't want to know the answers to. Questions that desperately need discussion to make this world a better place. I don't think it is art's job to answer those questions. In fact I think it is both counter-productive and usually makes the piece a lesser work. When art answers questions, people who don't agree can just dismiss it and go on with their lives without taking the time to really reflect.

Tree of Life is a Top 100 film because of the polarity it creates. So many of our movies today are so disposable. You see them, enjoy them (hopefully), and then you move on with your life. They don't re-enter your thoughts or force you to reflect. Tree of Life was not one of those movies. Whenever I hear someone has seen this movie my immediate response is to ask: "and what did you think?” And then. “And Why." It’s not about seeing if they have the "right" opinion or if they "understood" it. It serves as  a jumping off point to a much bigger discussion. Some of the best discussion on the importance of cinema, the purpose of art, and even the meaning of life started in discussing The Tree of Life. In my opinion that is testimony of a masterwork. We need more discussion like that in society.

The issues we face in society and the world today are gigantic. Not only are they large problems, but they are intensely layered and very complicated. We live in a "talking points" era where two camps form and one side states their over-simplified version of reality and the other side counters with their over-simplified version of reality. People have been indoctrinated into such strong divisions that neither side can empathize with one another. Worse than that the issues have been broken in 128 characters or less.

The women's health debate, which has huge religious, moral, and political ramifications, has become, to the left, a "War on Women." Support or defend this idea the issue is far more complicated than that. Yet neither side can see that and both have turned their critical thinking brains off. They have turned their two opposing views into something more comparable to a cheer at a sporting event then a social analysis to address a religious, moral, and political issue. My definition of masterful art is a piece that can break down these barriers. A piece that achieves some "universal truth" that allows people to see beyond their own personal lens and view of the world.  It also creates an environment where a deeper level of critical thinking can occur. In discussion of a work, people are allowed get beyond their own personal lens, their own talking points, and instead start to unpack these complicated multi-layered issues.

Words have very specific definitions. "Briskly" and "Quickly" are both words to describe a certain pace of an object in motion. Although they are similar in meaning, each word comes with its own connotation, history, and unique meaning to an individual. The best writers are aware of these obscure differences and chose specific language to illicit a specific emotion. I bring up diction, because there are words that have lost their definitions and meaning. Abstract words like "art" are really hard to define.

Everyone seems to think they know the definition of art. We all think we are all on the same page. When you start a conversation and try to define art between two people you will find that everyone has their own unique definition that can be affected by many different variables. Definitions can be close or they can be a mile apart, but in conversation and writing we use the word "art" like it is means the same thing to everyone.

To demonstrate the difference between an abstract word let's look at a concrete one. "Dog" is a concrete word. It’s a noun that refers to a specific species of mammal. I can go anywhere in the country and ask a person to point out a dog on the street and they will know what I am talking about. Art isn't that way. Art for a working-class kid on the streets could be graffiti. For a white upper class socialite they would point to a Monet or Mozart.

All of this was prologue for sharing my thoughts on the word pretension. Pretension is an abstract word. We all think we know what it means but when forced to define it, it grows problematic. A Terrance Malik film for some is pretentious. For others it is a masterwork. Regina Spector's music for some can be pretentious. It is meaningful and powerful for others. Most people are guilty of playing the pretension card at some point. I know have as well. It is a problematic claim to make well discussing a piece of art however. Once someone drops the pretention card there is nowhere further for the conversation to go.

I can only speak from my own perspective now. In times where I approached a work that I don't understand, an easy out from admitting that I didn't understand is labeling the work as pretentious. It’s not really a quality judgment on the piece itself, nor is it about one's intelligence level. When you have a strong negative reaction to a piece it is really easy to write it off. However it is far more interesting to dig in deeper and look at why you had the reactions you did. Finding specific concrete qualities that didn't work for you keeps the conversation at a critical level. Instead of labeling something as pretentious, you pick out specific qualities that lead you to your conclusions.

Lets find a recent example to show the difference between the two lines of analysis. Killing Them Softly was one of my more anticipated films of 2012. Seeing the director of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford and Brad Pritt reunited was really exciting. One of my friends loved the movie. He says it is brilliant, and works as a perfect allegory for the collapse of the financial sector in 2008. I thought that parallels between the plot of the movie and the meltdown were reaching at best. I'll play out two scenarios for you to demonstrate the difference of tactics.

Scenario A (Pretension)

Bob: Oh man Killing them Softly was so good. I think it might be the best movie of the year!

Will: Really? That movie really didn't work for me...

Bob: What are you kidding? It was a masterpiece!

Will: I think that might be a little overstated...

Bob: No see it’s an allegory for financial collapse of 2008. Its really genius!

Will: Honestly I found it really pretentious.

Bob: What? No you just didn't understand the point.

Sound familiar? I have been on both sides of this conversation so many times. The problem with pretention is it’s a complete write off. It forces a conversation into an "I'm right you're wrong" realm. Art isn't black and white as discussed earlier with definitions. Worst than that it takes a critical debate to a tribal level. The disagreement becomes about personal attacks and not about the piece in question. Nobody wants something they idealize to be labeled pretentious. It is a value judgment on them and their artistic taste. Once a discussion gets pushed to that tribal level the only place for the person attacked to go is to fight back. So they come back with something along the lines of: "you just didn't understand the point." This retaliation is now a personal attack on someone's intelligence level and their comprehension of art. These are kind of the discussion that spoil relationships and make people upset. There is a better way!

Scenario B (B for Better choice)

Bob: Oh man Killing them Softly was so good. I think it might be the best movie of the year!

Will: Really? That movie really didn't work for me...

Bob: What are you kidding? It was a masterpiece!

Will: I think that might be a little overstated...

Bob: No see it’s an allegory for financial collapse of 2008. Its really genius!

Will: I really struggled with that. Maybe I can understand how one can come to that conclusion but it just didn't get there for me. Most of the movie I had the feeling of "why should I care about these characters and this story?”

Bob: But it’s so clear. Its right there in the film. What about all of the radio and the cable media that was playing sound bytes about the financial collapse?

Will: You see I got that. I was aware. But there were so many and the director was so heaving handed with drawing those parallels that it just seemed force. I felt like I could hear him in the background whispering in my ear: "Get it? GET IT?"

Bob: Well it was really powerful and moving for me.

Will: Well I'm glad you enjoyed it, but it wasn't for me.

This is how two friends, colleagues, or fellow critics should debate a piece of art. By keeping the discussion qualitative things remain civil. Better than that, they have an opposing party explain concrete reason why something didn't work for them. This can help you understand why they came to their conclusion. You don't have to agree with them, but it does expose to you a new perspective. You can look at a work from a new angle and understand why people may feel that way about an aspect of the piece. It can help either solidify your own conclusions or maybe help you walk back your claims a little. Either way neither party leaves the conversation feeling personally attacked for their belief or lack of belief in a piece.

Now I realize these are fictionalized scenarios and the two players talk more like robots than people, but that was not the purpose. I can be a very idealistic person. I like to think we can make the world a better place by being the best humans we can be. This may be small and inconsequential, but I think there is insurmountable value in finding a way to disagree with someone while remaining civil. We live in such a polarized society today and we have an incredible laundry list of problems to solve. The only way to start chipping away at these problems is ending the divisions and coming together. That doesn't mean there can't (or won't) be disagreements, but if we argue in a better way we can disagree without ruining relationships.

So from this point I want to strike the word pretentious and words like it from my vocabulary. I'm going to find better more specific ways to articulate why I didn't like something. I encourage everyone to do the same. This entire post might air on the side of pretention a little, but hey if you don't like it find better ways to pick apart my arguments! :)



PS: On the horizon

I just wanted to write a little blurb on what to expect in each blog in the coming days

Welcome to the Club

First review! It will definitely be a Grant Morrison comic. Toss up between Batman RIP and Action Comics Vol. 1. Have an opinion? Leave some comments or message me.

The Silver Screen

This blog will remain kind-of away from the mission statement for a few weeks. I have my top 10 films of the year to write and discuss and I saw the Steve McQueen Exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute. The Oscar nominees will be announced Friday. There will be thought provoking work not just the standard review. The blog should be on schedule once the semester begins. Spoilers a Tarantino film made my top 10!

All the World's a Stage

I have been separated from my script library between going home for the holidays and visiting Chicago, but I did catch a show by the Neofuturists while in Chicago. Expect a review and reflection on that within the days.

Thank you all for you love and support,