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The Dale Cooper Quartet: Metamanoir

I didn't know until I looked for information about this group that there is a genre--okay, subgenre--of music called "dark jazz." And I bet you didn't know how many subgenres of jazz there are: see this Wikipedia page for a list and brief descriptions. I often suspect that some of the many, many subgenres of popular music exist mainly in the minds of critics, or of a very small coterie of fans and musicians. 

Be that as it may, "dark jazz" is a pretty good description of much of Angelo Badalamenti's music for Twin Peaks--not the nostalgic Julee Cruise love songs, but the instrumental background music of the Black Lodge and other dark scenes--and also, as the name suggests, of the music of the Dale Cooper Quartet. The music for Audrey's dance, for instance (a brief snippet):

I could quibble--I am quibbling--about whether the word "jazz" is accurate, because this isn't really jazz in any usual sense. In both these instances there's no improvisation, no sense of spontaneity at all. It is the opposite of lively (though "deadly" is not the way to express the opposition; such is our language). The "jazz" part of the term refers to the predominant instruments: reeds, drums, string bass. But these are really, so to speak, flavorings, meant to evoke an atmosphere similar to that of a noir film: dim, smoky, mysterious, maybe sinister, somewhat antique. It's very cinematic music, a stylized nod toward the subdued and melancholy sort of jazz that would be appropriate for a scene where the private eye meets the femme fatale in a bar and begins to fall in love with her.

Like any Twin Peaks fan, I love the music, so when a group named for Agent Cooper appeared some years ago at emusic.com I immediately gave it a listen. The music pretty well lived up to the promise of the name, so I bought this album, and another one, the enticingly titled Quatorze Pieces de Menace (the band is French). But, as has often happened, they were caught up in the flood of inexpensive MP3 music I was purchasing at the time, and I didn't really give them the attention they deserved. My recent re-viewing of Twin Peaks reminded me of them.

DaleCooperQuartetMetamanoir

I listened to Metamanoir (Meta Manor?) first, for the simple and easy reason that it appears first in the alphabetically-ordered list my music player shows me. It's excellent. It isn't an imitation of Badalamenti's music, but it's very much of a similar ambience. Besides the jazz-ish instrumentation, there are guitar and electronic sounds, along with natural sounds and mysterious industrial-mechanical creaks, rhythms, and drones (also pretty Lynchian, or Badalamentian). There are vocals, but they're pretty minimal, and the lyrics, where they're understandable, evoke melancholy and uneasiness.

The song titles are all in French, and have a Rimbaud-like, or at any rate very French, almost surreal quality, juxtaposing words in unusual and not necessarily intelligible ways: "Sa Prodigieux Hermitage, or "His Prodigious Hermitage." "Eux Exquis Acrostole" is the second track, and Google Translate turns this into "Them Exquisite Acropole." "Acropole" seems to be "Acropolis,"  but "Them" surely can't be correct. Oh well, whatever. The preceding track, "Une Petit Cellier" ("A Little Cellar," I think) consists of slow heavy breathing, a rhythm-less saxophone, and an organ drone. Then at the end there's a female voice recorded in telephone fidelity, at first unintelligible (to me), then becoming words, first spoken and then sung, words which will be prominent in "Acrostole":

Try to run away
The darkness won't cover you
Run away
Run away

Note: the video has some scenes some might find disturbing, such as a man apparently receiving electro-shock treatment. (Is that Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest?). You might want to sit somewhere else and listen.

My MP3 copy does not include "and the Dictaphones" in the band's name. I'm not sure whether that's part of the official name of the band or the name of other participants in the album. In any case, if you like this, by all means seek out the album. It's available on Bandcamp

My re-viewing of Twin Peaks on Netflix, by the way, as I feared, did not come anywhere near completion of the whole original series. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it was removed from Netflix at the end of June, and I was only able to get as far as episode 5 of season 2. As fans will immediately note, that's still several episodes before the revealing of Laura Palmer's murderer, after which, by near-universal opinion, the quality falls off. Feeling compelled to see it at least up until that point, I resentfully paid Amazon $20 for access to the whole of season 2. I expect to watch episode 8 tomorrow, and the climactic episode 9 soon after.  

I'm not quite as enchanted by the series this time around. But that still leaves me pretty enchanted.


The Crown Series Four

This has been out for some months now, and although I enjoyed the first three series a good deal, I was dreading this one a bit. The previous season had taken the Queen and her story up to the late '70s, so this one was inevitably going to deal with Charles, Diana, and Thatcher. And that was, also inevitably, going to be painful at best. Apart from the pain intrinsic to the Charles and Diana story, I know that the hatred of Margaret Thatcher among the sorts of people who run the BBC was and is at least on the level of the hatred of Ronald Reagan among the same sorts of people here. 

So I can't say I was disappointed by the treatment of those two stories. They were no worse than I expected. Well, not much, anyway: Charles is treated as more or less a monster crushing the gentle dove Diana, with a fair degree of assistance from the rest of the royal family, and I wonder how much justification there was for that. I certainly hope it was not as bad as portrayed.

The Thatcher story could have been worse. There was some attempt to treat her as a human being. But that aspect of the series was severely handicapped by the strange and unpleasant manner in which Gillian Anderson portrayed her. I admit that I doubt Anderson's ability to act on the level of those superb English actors. But even if that's not the case and these were conscious artistic choices, this particular portrayal struck me as pretty awful. She's utterly stiff, cold, and just plain weird. For some reason--and I assume there must be some real-life reason--whenever she's in conversation she tilts her head oddly, almost unnaturally, in a way that finally began to make my neck hurt. By the last couple of episodes I was actually looking away. 

I couldn't imagine that Anderson's version of Thatcher could ever have won an election. Wondering if she was really that off-putting, I watched several videos of Thatcher speaking, and while she was certainly no one's idea of easygoing, she was in those clips far more relaxed and normal in her speech and general manner than this series portrays her.

I suppose anyone reading this who's interested at all in the series has already seen it. But in case you haven't and are on the fence: I don't especially recommend it. It's extremely well produced and acted, apart from Thatcher. And Olivia Colman as Elizabeth is great again. What an actress she is!--as convincing when playing a middle-class policewoman (Broadchurch) as when playing  Queen Elizabeth. But in addition to the unpleasant aspects I've mentioned there is the frustration of never knowing how much, apart from public events, is history, how much is reasonable filling in of blanks, and how much is pure invention, with an agenda. And apart from the question of accuracy there's a certain cruelty in treating in raw detail the agonies of real people, most of whom are very much alive. I would not want to be William or Harry watching it. 

GillianAndersonAsMargaretThatcher

Addendum: here, for the moment, is the trailer. I say "for the moment" because I noticed that my link to the series 3 trailer (in this post) is no longer valid:

 


Probable Last Word on Dark (German TV series)

I have a feeling that nobody who read my post about this series last November watched it. But in case you did, or in case you still might, but haven't yet seen season 3: well, it is my sad duty to tell you that it's...frustrating. At best. 

I'm not saying "sad" as a formality. I really am saddened, because there was so much I liked about this series: the atmosphere, the acting, the characters, the music. When I wrote that first post, I had only watched season 1. Season 2 was good, but something happened in the last scene of the last episode of season 2 that I thought was a mistake. It threatened to tip the scale from "overly complicated" to "incomprehensible." I'd like to explain that, but it would involve a very big spoiler, so I'll restrain myself.

Continue reading "Probable Last Word on Dark (German TV series)" »


Tales From the Loop

I guess it was roughly a month ago that I watched the first episode of this Amazon series. I thought it was wonderful, a beautifully executed story about a little girl who loses her mother and receives help and comfort from a very unexpected source.  

It's a sci-fi series, more or less, a set of eight interconnected stories of several families living in a community which is centered on a mysterious thing called The Loop. By now I've forgotten whatever explication of that idea may have been included in the first episode. Suffice to say that it is at the center of some sort of science and engineering organization, also referred to as The Loop, which in turn is the center of a small town. The concept is pretty loose; mainly it serves to establish an atmosphere of technological mystery, with the accent on mystery.

Continue reading "Tales From the Loop" »


The Leftovers Left Behind

Was it really?...yes, it was, over a month ago that I talked about the HBO series The Leftovers. See this post. Here's the basic idea:

It's a strange and interesting premise:  what if a great many people suddenly just vanished, right in the middle of ordinary activities, poof, there one moment and gone the next? Something like the Rapture, but with absolutely no discernible pattern or meaning? Or explanation. How would the people still here--the leftovers--react? What sort of cultural pathologies might develop? 

At the time I'd seen two of the three seasons and was undecided about it: "sort of recommended, but with reservations" was the way I put it. 

Now I've seen the third season and have decided: not recommended. Rob G disagrees with me about whether the third season redeems the second or not. And as I mentioned in that earlier post the show was apparently loved by most critics. So don't take my word for it (not that you would). But all in all I found it disappointing and frequently annoying. A great many of the plot turns made no sense to me, turns for the sake of turns. And I didn't find most of the characters very interesting. I will say for the third season that it didn't leave me feeling like I'd sat through a very long shaggy dog story: at least one extremely important question is answered, so that was a relief.

I can, however, recommend the show without reserve to anyone who feels that he doesn't hear the f-word often enough. Most of the characters use it relentlessly, almost compulsively. 


Three "TV Shows": Yes, No, and Maybe

(I put "TV show" in quotes because it doesn't seem entirely correct to call these multi-episode multi-series dramas by the same term we use for the sitcoms, cop shows, lawyer shows, doctor shows, and so on which used to be what we meant when we talked about television. These newer things are more in the nature of multi-segment films.)

Anyway: this is a sort of out-of-place post for Easter Monday, but I'd been thinking about it and want to get it out of the way. I have a couple of posts about books coming but am not sure I'll have time to do them this week, as I'll have two of my grandchildren here for most of the week. 

*

Yes to Counterpoint.

I had never heard of this. It just showed up as a new release on Netflix, and we decided to try it. It's an odd combination of sci-fi and espionage. The former is present mainly as the device which sets up the situation: sometime in the 1980s a scientist working in a lab in East Germany Did Something--as usual with sci-fi, the Something makes no particular sense--which caused our universe to fork into two identical worlds accessible to each other via a tunnel in the scientist's lab. The scientist meets his counterpart in the parallel world. Partly because of actions deliberately taken by the two versions of Yanek, the scientist, the two worlds begin to diverge and soon become hostile to each other, so that in the present day there is a very Cold-War-ish situation between them. That's where the espionage angle comes in. 

The main character, Howard Silk, exists in both worlds but as very different sorts of men. Both work for their espionage agencies, but one is a mild-mannered low-level bureaucrat while the other is a tough guy actively engaged in the sorts of things one expects of movie spies. At some point I began referring to them as Harmless Howard and Mean Howard. He/they is/are played by J.K. Simmons, a name I didn't recognize, but a face I did: I've seen him play relatively minor characters before, but could not tell you where. 

The spy story is complex and will make you think of John LeCarre. But there's the twist that many of the same players are involved on both sides, in often very different versions of themselves--known as their Others--shaped by the very different circumstances of their lives. One is especially poignant, a man who is near the top of the spy agency in one world, and a pathetic semi-madman in the other. 

An interesting and complex story, well done, and, as noted, with interesting character twists. Sure, much of it is preposterous, but I didn't find the suspension of disbelief very difficult.

*

No to Damnation. (heh)

I could swear that The American Conservative ran an interview with the man behind this show, Tony Tost. It was intriguing, in part because of his very caustic views on the time he spent as a graduate student in English lit, and it mentioned this show, which sounded equally intriguing. So I found it on Netflix, and watched several episodes.

Apparently the interview was somewhere else, because when I went to look for it after watching the show, to refresh my memory about what had intrigued me, I couldn't find any trace of it. I guess it's out there somewhere at some other site. 

When you really want to like something, and give it the benefit of the doubt and press on even after finding yourself disappointed, and then abandon it, you must have been really disappointed. I thought this was going to be a philosophically interesting and engaging story about a very flawed religious man. Instead it was just an average crime and violence story pitting Evil Businessmen against Noble Farmers during the Depression. The central character is only posing as a preacher: he's actually a sort of vigilante-revolutionary. 

Apart from its having less depth than I'd expected, I just didn't think it was all that well done. Once I've started a story (be it television, film, or book) I'll usually press on just to find out what happens. By episode 4 or so of this I just didn't much care, and I wasn't much involved in the fate of the characters, so I bailed out.

*

Maybe to The Leftovers.

By "maybe" I mean sort of recommended, but with reservations. After I'd watched two of the three series, I learned that it's very highly regarded by critics. I dissent somewhat from that. It's a strange and interesting premise:  what if a great many people suddenly just vanished, right in the middle of ordinary activities, poof, there one moment and gone the next? Something like the Rapture, but with absolutely no discernible pattern or meaning? Or explanation. How would the people still here--the leftovers--react? What sort of cultural pathologies might develop? 

On October 14 of an unspecified year, 2% of the earth's population, 140 million people, disappeared in an event known as the Departure. The show explores a number of possibilities in the reaction. There is, for instance, a nihilist cult called the Guilty Remnant which devotes itself to hammering home to the rest of the world that the event itself and life in general are meaningless. There's another cult centered on an alleged healer called Holy Wayne. There is a government bureau which distributes checks to the families of the Departed, which requires checking for potential fraud. There are Christians--well, at least one--trying to prove that it was not the Rapture, by revealing hidden sins of the Departed. There are dispirited and somewhat disoriented memorial gatherings where no one really knows what to feel. There is a town in Texas where no one Departed, which becomes a sort of holy place, with people fighting to get into it in the hope that it will either heal what has happened to them or prevent it from happening again. 

It is certainly interesting. My reservations: first, I've seen two of the three series, and suspect that in the end it's only going to be a long shaggy dog story. I really began to suspect that when I read that one of the creators of the show was also co-creator of Lost, of which I saw only a couple of episodes and which I have heard was in the end pretty unsatisfying. In addition to the Departure itself, there are apparently supernatural events which turn plot wheels and then are, um, left behind. And second, I just don't find the characters and the production in general all that engaging. That last one very much a matter of personal taste, of course.

But maybe you'll agree with those enthusiastic critics. And I plan to watch the third series, in spite of my reservations.

*

Oh wait, here's a fourth one, a light and qualified recommendation: Ragnarok. This is a Norwegian series which is somewhat similar to those American shows which go into the early life of Superman or some other superhero. It sounds a little silly: a teenage boy named Magne moves to a little town where, unknown to all, the Frost Giants who battled the ancient Norse gods still live and rule in the form of Evil Businessmen. Magne does a kindness to an old one-eyed man in a wheelchair, which I would not have realized if the subtitles had not told me who was speaking, is Wotan. The man's wife--not, as far as we're told, Frigg--speaks some kind of magic words and Magne is invested with the powers of Thor. Ragnarok II is clearly coming. 

I can't justify it, but I really enjoyed this one. It's stuffed with leftish politics (climate change as apocalypse, and all that), but that doesn't really matter to the essence of the story: it's just today's conventional way of portraying Good Vs. Evil. According to the show's Wikipedia entry, the Norwegian critics panned it. But the Norse mythology aspects of it (though I think what the show does with it is only lightly connected to the actual myths), the stunning scenery, and the engaging characters captivated me anyway. It doesn't end decisively, so I hope there is another series coming. I really hope that a certain character turns out to be (or turns into) Loki, which I kept thinking was suggested. It's not a big investment of time, by the way: six 45-50 minute episodes. 


No More Posts Till Easter Monday

As is fairly usual with me, I started off pretty well with Lent and gradually got slacker and lazier. I'm going to make an effort during Holy Week to attend more to the occasion. It seems especially important this year since I can't actually go to Mass. So I won't be posting anymore till Monday April 13. I'll still participate in conversations, if there are any, but there won't be any new posts. 

Today for the first time since public Masses were cancelled I watched one on television. As I said in a comment here a couple of weeks or so ago, a televised Mass just seems all wrong to me in some fundamental way that I haven't made the effort to articulate. I don't mean religiously wrong, just off. Unreal. Weird. But I have already noticed a tendency on my part to start drifting without the anchor of weekly Mass (and also in my case a weekly holy hour--which I still do at home but of course it's not the same). I keep thinking of what Janet said about the Japanese Christians who held on to the faith for...what was it?...250 years without priests, and I'm ashamed.


Interesting Item for Twin Peaks Fans

Some intriguing comments from Mark Frost at the Welcome to Twin Peaks web site, which I guess I should look at more often. On The Return:

The themes we were looking at were different. All of that is reflected in the show. I think it’s an older and somewhat sadder and wiser look at the world.

I found the third season somewhat disappointing, but that wasn't the reason. I guess my criticisms are worse, really, because what disappointed me were some of the specific artistic moves. The minimizing of Agent Tammy Preston's role, for instance, for which Mark Frost's book The Secret History of Twin Peaks raised expectations. 

And I don't know about "wiser." Darker, for sure. 


True Detective 3

It's really good. At least as good as the first one, and arguably better. It's somewhat similar in broad outline: the murder of a child, and two detectives who fail to solve the case at the time it occurs and pursue it over a period of many years. It's set in the South again, this time in Arkansas. The first crime also includes the disappearance, presumed abduction, and possible murder of the murder victim's sister. The action takes place in three distinct time periods: that of the crime, ten years later when the case is reopened and again not solved, and 2019. 

Once again it features seriously impressive acting in the detective roles, Mahershala Ali as Wayne Hays and Stephen Dorff as Roland West. (I think Ali's first name is pronounced as if the "e" werent there--"Mahrshala," accent on the second syllable.) It also involves some downright amazing makeup trickery to turn the detectives, young men in 1980, into old men forty years later. There's an extra bit on the DVD that describes how this was done. (And by the way, one of the extras on either the first or second DVD contains a major spoiler. It should have been on the last DVD.)

Once again the personalities of the two detectives, and the relationship between them, are at the center of the story. This time it's complicated by the fact that Hays is black and West is white. In Arkansas in 1980, the end of segregation was only fifteen years or so in the past. It was probably more or less by force of law that the state police in Arkansas, as in many places, was racially integrated. Hays's position is difficult. And it's one of the great strengths of this production that West's position is also difficult, though of course in a different way. Racial matters are handled with great subtlety and insight into the complexities of the situation, very different from the usual crude, clumsy, and stereotype-driven approach of the entertainment industry on that subject. Both Ali and Dorff are completely convincing in this respect. And a special nod goes to Ali for his work in the 2019 segments, because Hays at that point is beginning to slide into dementia. 

Suffice to say that it's brilliantly written, brilliantly acted, brilliantly directed, brilliantly produced. T-Bone Burnett's musical direction and writing are pretty close to perfect. I have a mild reservation about the ending, but as I can't discuss it without giving it away I'll have to leave it at that. I don't think anyone who thought highly of the first series will be disappointed in this one. 

Here's the trailer:

 


The Crown 3

It's good. Olivia Colman as Elizabeth is superb, just as you would expect if you know her work. There is another actor from Broadchurch present, playing a very different role; I'll let that be a surprise. Helena Bonham-Carter is really a little too glamorously beautiful as Margaret, but of course her acting is first-rate. 

This season takes the story into roughly the mid-1970s. It's a little frustrating, never knowing how much of the story is gossip and hearsay and how much is certainly true. I assume that all public appearances and speeches and so forth are accurate, and that private conversations are invented, but that leaves a big middle area that could be roughly accurate or wildly wrong--portraits of relationships and so forth. I suppose the filmmakers didn't go too far out on any limbs, though I figure they probably turned up the elements that lend themselves to a soap-opera-ish treatment.

Here's the trailer:

I really must find out the name of the music that's playing at the end of the last episode (not heard in the trailer). 

I sort of dread series 4, which will have to wade into the Charles-Diana misery.