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Friday, June 26, 2009

The Aesthetics of Michael Jackson

When I was in college, I took a course on Eugene O'Neill - "Eugene O'Neill and The Cultural Construction of a Psychological Self" with Professor Joel Pfister (the P is silent, Witchie). In this class we "deconstructed" O'Neill like good postmodernist 90s college students, breaking down his plays by their points of view on race, class, and gender. So basically being that I went to the school that was the setting for the movie PCU (see here -, the opinion of most of the class was that O'Neill was a racist, sexist, classist idiot whose plays never should have seen the light of day.

We had to write a final paper for the class with a thesis statement drawn from our own perspective on O'Neill. It was my opinion that O'Neill still was a "good" playwright - not necessarily Strange Interlude or The Iceman Cometh (yawn-a-roo) - but Long Day's Journey was compelling along with many others and frankly he was a pretty durn good writer whose plays have stood the test of time. I found a quote from Bertolt Brecht about the aesthetics of drama. Boiled down, the essence was that Brecht believed that drama has its own aesthetic - meaning, that the quality of a play being "good" is completely separate from all other criteria. You could have a well-written, well-acted, well-lit, well-designed play that was totally morally abhorrent. Just because the subject matter is repugnant doesn't mean necessarily that the actors, the dramatic moments, or the set design sucked.

I was not popular in this class. People thought I was a Nazi. But I got an A minus on the paper because the professor agreed I had a compelling argument and Brecht backed me up. Schwing!

Anyway, I see a similar thing going on with Michael Jackson. People seem to be in two camps: either St. Michael is dead and they are weeping and gnashing their teeth, or they are saying "I'm so glad that child rapist is dead". I guess this blog (which I totally have NO TIME for LOL and shouldn't be typing right now) is aimed more at those who think that the children of the world are now safe and thank goodness the molester has been eradicated.

You can say what you like about his personal life and the horrible stories and court cases that came out of Neverland. Michael Jackson was a major talent. 70s and 80s music would have been completely different without his influence. Not to mention on those zippers on those leather jackets :-) He sang, wrote, and performed major pop music that always took what was happening right then and moved it ahead a few notches. Quincy Jones helped focus his records with laser-sharp precision.

Phil Spector is in jail for the rest of his life for murder. Does that invalidate "Pretty Little Angel Eyes?"

OJ Simpson is also a psychopathic killer (thankfully imprisoned). Should they take his football records off the books?

I admit, it's hard to sing these people's praises in any way. I guess all I want to say to those who say "Ding dong the rapist is dead" is that this world is far more confusing and nuanced that that - that it is good to remember the good about people no matter who they are even if it's difficult, because when all we do is rejoice when someone dies is become a little more psycho ourselves.

And if you're thinking about being my baby, it don't matter if you're black or white :-) and yes, ding dong, the rapist IS dead.

Somewhere I have a video of myself dancing around to Billie Jean at age 15 with a winter glove on my hand. If I find it, I WILL post it.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Introducing...The Chris Huff Sock Monkey!!!

Made by the fabulous Amy Dutsch (of Mama's Little Monkeys and Huffmusic Promotions) -

Go here to see it.

Oh, ok. Here's a sneak preview:

Definitely the coolest piece of Huff merchandise yet created. Fun for the whole family! Pose me like you have always wanted (some suggestions I have had recently are with my leg over my head singing "A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts") .

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Dig the new pimped-out blog! This is the work of none other than Amy Dutsch, Huffmusic intern and sock monkey creator extraordinaire (among other things). I'm very grateful and indebted to her for seeing where the slack is and taking it up.

Many people have asked me to tell them "every detail" of the Joss Whedon speech I heard, so while the event is still fresh in mind I'll fill you in. Who is Joss Whedon, you might ask? Some sort of GURU? A local GOD? Perhaps he invented the Internet? Pray tell, do speak of this man with the interesting jumbled name...

All are true. Joss Whedon (for the uninitiated) is a TV/film creator (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Dollhouse, Firefly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog which can be watched here), film director (Buffy, Serenity), and former film major at Wesleyan University in CT, class of 1987 (I am also a former film major, class of 93). The event was held at my alma mater as part of a larger seminar on TV/film/pop culture; I have only been back 3 times in 15 years. So TIME WARP! 3 of my former classmates are actually film professors there as well! Great to see them, and a great time...anyway....yes, I am getting to Joss...hold your pointy teeth there, Spike....

The man himself reminds me of a self-deprecating young Orson Welles with better one-liners. He was unshaven and dressed California-style with a white blazer, looking very much the disheveled auteur. Though tired from multiple plane flights in 2 days, he was extremely entertaining, spoke for about 2 hrs, and at the end stayed and signed all the Buffy stuff that people brought. What a mensch! Highlights:
  • His description of the current state of media: "The old studios, companies, and old ways are collapsing, and the new thing - the blog internet podcast beast - has not yet fully formed. But the courtship has begun, they are dating, and soon they are going have to sex. Which is very very frightening because they are not the same species. " Most accurate take on "what's going on" in the entertainment industry that I have heard yet!

  • His detailed history of the Buffy franchise and how the first film and series came to be. He describes himself as being born with a silver script in his mouth; his father's agent read his first script (he is also touted as the first 3rd generation TV writer - both Dad and Grandpa were in the biz). His main inspiration came from a title he read while working in a video store: Revenge of the Bimbos which, according to him, was very disappointing because the bimbos didn't do much of anything, let alone get revenge on anyone. But his main aspiration was to create something that would go straight-to-video and look great on a shelf - "Hm...that's looks strange...let's watch it...". Obviously things became much much more successful...

  • His new perspective as a studio head (gained from the Dr. Horrible experience) summed up by his reaction to a fan's comment on another one of his works that "they would never buy the T-Shirt". The studio head inside him screamed in pain! lol - this was part of a larger issue he discussed:

  • The renewal of Dollhouse (his current show on FOX) which in his mind has everything to do with the network's recent discovery that his stuff sells better years later and his brand sells in multiple revenue streams (syndication, DVD, merchandise including action figures, comic books, and T-Shirts). Dollhouse is one of the lowest rated shows ever to be renewed for a second season. He quipped, "So, instead of my vacation, I literally start work again on Monday. Oh well!" His last network show, Firefly, only ran for 7 episodes (10 made), but the DVDs sold well enough to get a feature film out of the show (Serenity). FOX has very much come around in this respect.

  • He holds the Wesleyan Film Dept. as particularly its founder Jeanine Basinger (our mutual professor) in extremely high regard (as we all do). Jeanine has written numerous books - which you can find here; I recommend The It's A Wonderful Life book). The underlying theme of the weekend was the balance between creativity and commerce and the importance of balancing personal vision with a specific idea of who the audience is. "It took me basically until now," he said, "to realize that my vision of a beautiful teenage girl on the outside of society who can kill vampires is actually my avatar, the representation of who I am inside." He elaborated in how his vision of film and belief in film genre came from his classes with Jeanine ("Every film class I took became my life. When I took "Musicals", everyone would sing and dance around me. When I took "Film Noir", the world was full of shadows and everybody was against me, including my girlfriend. When I took "Westerns", there were enemies way off in the distance, and suddenly I had a mission to save those who could not help themselves.")

  • He loves every part of the process. When he is writing a script, he will envision the tag line, the poster, the trailer, every piece of the marketing out of the love for the entire process. "Of course, the marketing dept. at the studio didn't follow a single one of my ideas," he laughed. He is not averse to merchandising either (one of the first questions the studio asked him when he pitched Dollhouse was "Can we make dolls"?).

  • Joss described his view on the current state ("the fall of Rome") of the major studios and their adherence to adaptation, remake, and sequels. According to him, for the 3 years before Dollhouse he made a living selling scripts to studios that then never got made. One of his scripts was rejected outright by a studio exec who said "I just don't see this having a sequel." His view on this is that studios have become so conservative due to the industry-wide shrinkage that they are relying on existing characters so that the audience doesn't have to meet anyone new. As examples, he said he disliked Wolverine ("Why was that movie made?") but loved Star Trek. Despite loving Star Trek, he did use it as an example of the "new philosophy" - "look, here's Chekhov, we all love him, look here's Scotty, we all love him" etc. Which lead to....

  • The Buffy remake. The rights to Buffy are controlled by the Kazuis ("as well they should be," he says, "they put the money up for the first movie. However, pretty much anyone can make a Buffy movie except me.") He wishes them luck in making their movie, but doesn't want to be a part of the new one as he is more interested in telling new stories than being part of retelling an old one or being part of the current Hollywood fixation on old characters.

  • He summed up by re-emphasizing the need for a personal vision in art balanced with audience awareness. "Tell your story," he declaimed, "what it is that is uniquely yours. But tell it to someone, not at someone." He then took questions from the audience, most of which were fairly forgettable but included his amusing banter. There was one person who asked a very specific, geeked-out question about Episode 10 of his Buffy comic book series and he knew EXACTLY what the person was talking about (I assume he goes to conventions from time to time and is prepared for everything lol)

  • Funny last remembrance: The Buffy videogame included him as a character you could play. He enjoyed taking and executing such vocal directions as "OK, now say what you would say when you kill Willow". However, his favorite line was cut from the final game. When asked to say what he would say when killing Tara, he said "Oh, I'm going to get a lot of letters about this one."
It was a great privilege to see this inspiring, original voice in TV/film close up, even if he was unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed. Perhaps I should say ESPECIALLY because he was unwashed and ssd. I look forward to seeing and hearing more from him in the future. Also highly recommend watching everything he's ever done.

And what of music, you might ask? More on that next time...some exciting stuff in the works...but now to sleep perchance to dream...(taking the garbage first)