Inherent Vice film review

Inherent Vice is a film of a recent Thomas Pynchon book of the same name. By all reports, not one of Pynchon’s more profound novels, but that still puts him head and shoulders beyond most fiction writers. Except that Pynchon is only partly a fiction writer; he has been chronicling historical eras through his own lens and for his own philosophical purposes since Gravity’s Rainbow, his third book in 1973.
Here, the dope-infused California of 1970 is the scene and star of the film. Any Pynchon book, because of the constant and staggering outpouring of detail, would be extraordinarily difficult to film – perhaps why this is the the first one – but Paul Thomas Andersen, director of The Master, There Will Be Blood and Boogie Nights, has succeeded beyond expectation. His use of the saturated colour of 70s porn films added a brilliant atmosphere to the film.
It has a distinctly convoluted Chandleresque plot (has anyone ever figured out The Big Sleep?) that takes us through the drug consuming and dealing strata, free love, the LA cops, the inevitable property developers and the equally inevitable (this is California) rehab & religion retreats. So it is not unusual in that sense, treading similar ground to film such as Chinatown or The Big Lebowski. But it is different, told as it is from the perspective of the pot-befogged private eye,Doc Sportello, perfectly portrayed by Joaqin Phoenix. There is narration (by squeaky voiced Joanna Newsom) but Doc remains the central character, a kind of intelligent cypher with alternately spine-chilling and sexy characters swirling about him like devils in some pothead medieval painting.
There are currents and undercurrents: the slightly mentioned but indelible Manson Family, the crooked LA police, crooked large scale hard drug importers, crooked hospitals and, of course, crooked land developers. But there is an ultimate awareness that there is something afoot that is greater than the sum of these parts. Nevertheless, throughout the film is hilarious; I found myself frequently laughing out loud – and not alone, as is sadly often the case.
It is very Pynchonesque, and very telling, that “inherent vice” is an actual technical term which means “The tendency of material to deteriorate due to the essential instability of the components or interaction among components.” So, humorous though it may be, it would be a mistake to see this film as a comic paean to the hippie Garden of Eden when it’s really about the snake. 2015-02-07_1828

Review: Anthony Braxton in Bristol

Anthony Braxton
The Lantern, Bristol
Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Anthony Braxton made an extremely rare appearance in Britain – the only one on this European tour, a real coup for Bristol’s Colston Hall – and was greeted by a big and very warmly appreciative crowd. He brought with him an orchestra of three: Mary Halvorsen on electric guitar, James Fei, alto sax, and cornet-flugelhorn-valve trombonist Taylor Ho Bynum, a longtime collaborator with Braxton. And there was a computer that issued a constant stream of ambient background sounds programmed by Braxton.
Anthony Braxton, at 70 looking like a rumpled favourite grandfather, has for 50 years taken a path that starts in jazz and then takes a route that no other has tread. It has strong roots in free jazz, but it is not that; there is a huge element of composition. As one onlooker said, “There’s obviously intelligent design there; I just can’t tell what it is.”
There were tonal centres; the music was very rarely dissonant. Generally, one player would take a lead role, playing something in a stream with continuity, while the others played a combination of short bursts of sound and subdued long notes. Usually if one horn was coming out with short stabs of sound, the other one would be playing long tones.
Mary Halvorsen, the guitarist, played combinations of dark chorded brief rhythms, those same punctuative stabs, and occasional series of chords that, in the context, seemed strangely conventional. Not to worry, though, they were few and far between.
Interestingly, Braxton himself, on alto, soprano and piccolo saxophones, was the most conventional sounding when he was in the lead role, and he took that role more than any of the others. It was still very free playing, and his tone and energy were beautiful and strong; at 70, he is not old.
They played continously – maybe 40 minutes – when, after all the disparate elements of the music unexpectedly met in one unison place and stopped and Braxton announced the interval. The audience, which had remained riveted throughout, erupted in rapturous applause. This same form repeated for the second half, the final applause even more ecstatic than the first.
Anthony Braxton’s music has the elements of all music and does what music does: evokes an emotional response and puts thoughts in your head. In the first segment particularly, there were moments, long periods, really, where it seemed naturalistic: one could very easily imagine a strong wind rattling the windows, blowing the occasional rubbish bin lid down the street, and so on. This is reminiscent of John Cage, who could hear music in everything, all the unceasing sounds around us. But much of it was just music, with or without mental pictures, but rising and falling, with elegiac passages, crescendoes, interplay and, above all, composition.

Birds at Night


Birds looked down from building tops all through the night. They watched humans scurrying about, not as plentiful or as agile as ants but leaving more to eat. Humans were a great source of food, thought they weren’t edible themselves.

Until they were dead; then it was different. You could tell when one was about to die; it looked like a baby bird in its nest, straining up, mouth drawn open, waiting for mama to drop a worm. But it it was straining for air, not a worm. The birds could hear the faintest last exhale, then it was time.



My dad always kept a diary, a diary that none of us was ever allowed to see. He guarded it like a hawk, always kept it in his safe. Even Mom never saw it. He’d spend hours up in his little study with it; we could see him through the window from the tree in the backyard. We’d have to be quiet, though, ’cause if he saw or heard us he’d pull down the window shade.

So we spent our childhood in that house, my dad coming home from work every day, locking himself up in that room with his diary, coming down for dinner, then going back up afterwards. He didn’t like television like Mom; thought it was a waste of time. But we never knew him to be doing anything else, like building stuff in a workshop or playing with us, or walking the dog. He just went up there with that damned diary.

I think Mom didn’t mind, even liked that he did that. We didn’t think this ’til we got older, but maybe something happened that made them lead separate lives. They didn’t seem to like each other that much. I mean, not hate, or even dislike; they just didn’t want that much to do with each other past dinner and once in a while visits to relatives. We thought it was normal, like kids do.

Then one day my dad died. He was in his study and didn’t answer my mom’s dinner call. We’d all moved out by then but I’d come over for dinner that night. We had to break the door open with a pry bar. There was my dad slumped over his diary, still as death. We only ever found that one diary, forty years old, not a word written in it.

Friday Fictioneer 100 Word Story: Airship


Riding golden llamas in cold bright sun, we’d reached the highest ridge, where the air is thin. We looked up in the sky and saw a fearsome sight: through fine mist, a giant eye, strange symbols written on its skin. It was nothing we’d ever seen. We thought it God.

It was silent in the cold, not a sound floated down. It sat there so still, like a reptile waiting for a mouse. We wondered what to do, afraid to speak, afraid to move. We stayed like statues until darkness came. We are still here, frozen, but God has gone.


Friday Fictioneer 100 Word Story: Flat Top

Flat Top

I am a Monscindogen. People hate us – mostly in Tennessee nowadays – but they don’t know us; we keep to ourselves. We just do what’s in our nature, have for over a hundred thousand years, maybe longer. First I know was in the Ukraine, maybe Africa before that. Then over to the British Isles while some went east, Mongolia, China. They crossed the Pacific, stopping on islands, then in Peru. Some came down from Siberia to North America. We’re not miners, we’re not religious, it’s just in our blood. All we care about is cutting the tops off mountains.

Friday Fictioneer 100 Word Story: Delusion


Jack and Molly were starving. Recently incarcerated for schizophrenia, and without an automobile, they were clearly on the outside looking in. They had been trying to get food, but it seemed you had to have a car to get any attention at the drive-up window. They hadn’t had a meal since the institution, where, along with food, they got the drugs that eradicated their moth delusion. The hospital pronounced them cured, let them out into the world, but ever since no one seemed to notice them or even to hear them when they spoke. Now they could feel their wings.