Friday, July 27, 2007

The Irony of Ironing: A Treatise on the Ramifications of Cinematic Ironing

When Steven Seagal kicks Bad Guy #5 in the sternum during the grandiose finale to Nico, a thousand cries erupt from haberdasheries everywhere. For unbeknownst to the casual disciple praying at the temple of Toscani and his unyielding fists of ferocity, this act of valiant rebellion against the foes of the world ruptures more than mere Manichean dichotomies concerning the good (the Seagal) and the bad (the savages giving Seagal dirty looks). No, devastation of epic proportions, that’s the blow dealt – swept forth determined to diminish Seagal’s aura (as if anything could possess such insolence) and to cause our eyes to crust over in shock and repulsion. The baleful corollary to Seagal’s kinetic prowess?

A crease exploding across the southern boundaries of his pantaloons, a great swathe of insulting, fibrous torment besieging Seagal’s cherished trousers, cut as there were from the finest Inuits his mob connections could round up using only the slogan: ‘Ever wanted to be Steven Seagal’s trousers? Apply now!’

This chasm in the integrity of Seagal’s fashion sense thankfully did not burden too much his ambition to kick everyone else in the room at least once. However, it did present a cumbrous obstacle to overcome at particular moments, such as when, while thrusting a knee into the spleen of a man addicted to doilies, his stereoscopic flair perceived the affliction. The wrinkle was pulsating and caught up within a tornado of fire, debris was beginning to coat his opponents and even induced a sound technician nearby to asphyxiate. Seagal’s outrage started to boil, but before he could address the bizarre occurrence, the outrage congealed in a fit of mitigation, prompting him to forget the ailment, and so he continued to mount assault upon assault on his foes.

You may well conjecture that, as this battle was at the denouement of the film, wrongs were quickly righted when Seagal finished banishing evil from the universe, he being now able to tackle the clothing disfigurement. But that is not what happened, for Seagal’s triumph segued into the poetry of end credits before action could be launched. Seagal and his juddering trousers became trapped in Nico’s spatio-temporal continuum, located somewhere between Seagal’s concluding knuckle elixir and the exultancy of his name drifting up the vertical, a five-minute stretch of desolation. It was Seagal’s skill in dismantling the organs of his adversaries that initiated the discrepancy in the first place – he was cursed by his own glory, how unfortunate.

Why is there no comprehensive theory of ironing? How do particle physicists and quantum enthusiasts ever hope to complete that grand utopian Theory of Everything if they feel obliged to shun an enterprise as felicitous as ironing? What are the chances that we will one day unearth an unfinished manuscript attributed to Hegel titled The Philosophy of Ironing?

Those willing to argue that German Idealism tended to reserve the energies of cogitation for metaphysical queries more than for shuffling with an ironing board are sorely delusional. Kant was famously rigid in his routine, his strolls down the park replaced pocket watches for many, and there is no doubt that his frilly shirts got the iron treatment in a similarly scheduled manner.

‘Where philosophy ends, ironing begins.’

I can’t remember with any degree of certainty who said that, but it may have been Marx – after all, how can one forget all that talk about linens in Capital?

Whatever the great man’s motives for creating this distinction, he must have gone temporarily insane to utter such illogical speculation. Perhaps a knock on the head during the tumult of 1848, or maybe Engels had been badgering him to the point of madness over a proposed TV pundit show he had conceived as a rival to Hannity & Colmes.

The truth is that ironing and philosophy are indissociable. One may be able to philosophise with a hammer, but if you’re bereft of crinkle-free sweater-vests, that’s when substantial problems arise. “Pure sophism” is the pithy remark to bellow at whoever harangues with such fallacious dualisms, regardless of how awe-inspiring their beard may be.

And why would the two notions be insulated from each other, like two naughty children caught attempting to replace their teacher’s diaphragm with a goat?

This is needless segregation and would have even been looked down upon during apartheid. Absurd reasoning, such as it mirrors the foregoing description, neglects to see ironing and philosophy not only as co-existing, but also as intrinsically interlinked. The maxim displayed above should be reconfigured to say the following: 'Where philosophy ends, ironing ends.'

A philosophy without ironing is not a philosophy, like a Bond film without Dalton is not a Bond film. Ironing is the hidden kernel at the root of the mental fizzing that stimulates one to ask a question such as: does the plurality that constitutes society wholly eliminate the striving for some kind of universality?

Macaulay Culkin was able to utilise an iron as an instrument to solve his quandaries. By tweaking its accepted function, he transmogrified the object into a deadly weapon, thus impeding the guy from Celtic Pride who is not Ray Stantz from executing illegalities on his body. Why can philosophy not enact the very same implementation of ironing, I ask?

How did the 20th century’s greatest philosopher gauge the conundrum of ironing?

At first, it seems, he was tentative, unwilling to commit to the unknown variables inherent in the act. Conditioned already by years of ivory tower wraiths spewing nasty invective his way, clouding the unambiguous realities of socks smoothed out and cummerbunds impeccably unblemished, he couldn’t help but miss the blatant truth.

Hence, we see Jean Claude Van Damme flowing from one scene to another in Bloodsport, clad in the most rumpled of turtleneck loincloths – even his galoshes were scarred by dimples in the fabric. But like all intellectual dynamos, sagacious discovery was not far away.

It was Street Fighter that announced the fresh paradigm shift to envelope Van Damme’s being. Cast your mind back to that blue beret, those military embellishments adorning his chest, the boots wrought from the potency of a thousand men, the camouflage hues sown into his skin – wasn’t it all the sort of sublime spectacle that even Guy Debord wouldn’t have had want to dismiss?

And where was Van Damme to be found in-between humouring Ken and Ryu, fondling Minogue and pummelling Gomez Addams? Why, he was putting in the hours with his trusty iron, of course. But let’s not annihilate our detractors in this appeal to re-evaluate the precise purview of philosophy vis-à-vis ironing with the simplistic and reductive statement that Van Damme found an awesome tool in the guise of the iron, one which would enable his sheets to become as refined as his intellect.

Yes, tassels were polished, but so much more was brewing with this coupling. For Van Damme located inside that plastic hub of evaporation, a compassionate, erudite interlocutor with which he could spend every evening discussing the specifics of his weltanschauung. It was a perfect marriage (literally, after 1998). The iron knew how to pronounce all the words that Van Damme had only read, it was witty and packed with insights, but demure and empathetic also. While Van Damme trained it in the ways of kicking people in the throat.

Ironing for Van Damme was a gateway, one that he discovered during the long nights of the Street Fighter shoot. Whereas Seagal’s lack of ironing apparatus condemned him to eternity imprisoned within a five-minute section found at the end of Nico, Van Damme had the foresight to eschew the iron no more, acknowledging the profundities wedged inside, and consequently embracing them.

Alas, the arbitrary nature of the realisation (or lack thereof) that accompanies the phenomenon of the iron becomes all the more apparent when we consider Blanka, erstwhile scientist in Street Fighter, cruelly reduced to being a green monster with bad posture. It is said, in Capcom lore, that Blanka carried around with him everywhere he went a lucky iron. “It was blessed by the lactations of Aphrodite herself,” says the boy who fixes the Galaxian machine down the pub. However, whilst filming Street Fighter, the wondrous object disappeared. Blanka left it one morning to go film an important scene involving smoke machines, only to return later to a void, a vacuity, left where the iron had been sitting. He was understandably distraught, smashed to pieces within his verdant exterior, but continued nonetheless, professional honour overriding the intense trauma of the situation. Sadly, Blanka’s career went exceptionally downhill post-Street Fighter, and besides a few Disney films starring opposite Judge Reinhold, he was never able to repeat the heights of that canonical film. Some say that the loss of the iron was the catalyst for this demise. But then again, who knows – that was some really bad posture after all.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dream Theater - Systematic Chaos

Ants scurrying, coiled up in insect militia overtones, overwhelming and bowdlerising in their duty to silence cries, the shrieking invective standing opposed to clever amalgams of polar terms. That is the imagery adorning the latest collage of musical intrigue from the doyens of prog metal, Dream Theater. An edifice of concrete highway bursting in and out of the frame in every direction, ants roaming upon both the latitudinal and the longitudinal, what curious connotation floats off its sighting?

With Dali and Ballard intertwined beneath the surface, this visual statement is the album name, a grand heap of Systematic Chaos afforded pictorial representation. Regimented ants, a vibrant muddle of incoherence to the human eye, projected on to civilisation’s own gesture of palpable linearity, the tarmac trails littering the environment, steaming signifiers of mechanical maturity. That is the declaration, control coupled with freneticism, steadiness conjoined to rampant oscillation, ordered certitudes clutched by cyclonic entropy. The turns of phrase spew forth over this overture to the album, already boisterously heralding the opus, full of pre-emptive deductions concerning what tensions could emerge from chaos systematised, or systems perverted by chaos. Yet, is this not merely a metonymic doodle that typifies the band’s entirety, the virtuosic strains of Berklee College of Music epidemically thrust across constellations of modes and scales?

Naturally it is. Hence, this outing, the first progeny to be delivered by Roadrunner Records, makes for a healthy continuation of trails blazed heretofore, swift indentations cut into the fabric of heavy music, from the erratic instrumentality churned out midway through ‘Metropolis’ to ‘Learning to Live’s canonical F Sharp, from the mellifluous legato in ‘Trial of Tears’ to ‘Dance of Eternity’s insatiable appetite for time signature changes. Systematic Chaos arrives on a swell of two decades stimulating awe in the heads of musicians everywhere, but what does it offer that hasn’t already been sampled myriad times? What new majesties can the quintet present that might sanction us to put Awake down for five minutes?

Like its predecessor Octavarium, Dream Theater’s newborn consists of eight songs, filling a single compact disc to capacity with ease. While we do get a lengthy epic in the guise of ‘In The Presence of Enemies’, akin to the aforementioned album’s title track, this one is bifurcated, split into two autonomous tracks, one announcing the beginning of the album, the other beckoning us to a close. The reason for this eccentric scission? As Mike Portnoy points out in the Making Of documentary that accompanies the special edition release, with this song the band found themselves blessed with a perfect opener but remained uneasy about throwing such an elongated composition right at the front of proceedings – too high a mountain to clamber over, or something, was the analogy exuded. Perhaps an unfortunate decision, ‘In The Presence of Enemies’, combined, is clearly the album highlight and would thusly suit realignment into its initial totality (a procedure I’d recommend for all iPod/MP3 doohickey users). However judiciously Portnoy makes his case, I fail to grasp the compelling impetus to place it as track one – although it should be noted that no other song seems like an adequate replacement.

Dissent over track order notwithstanding (maybe this is the eponymous chaos?), ‘Part 1’ inaugurates affairs brimming with casual intensity as a hasty melee of instrumental intricacy segues into glossy melodies as John Petrucci’s veracious bends cascade over Jordan Rudess’ keyboard canvas. With nods to Liquid Tension Experiment curtailed by a breakdown of quietude and the eventual eruption of James Labrie, the song moves on, climaxing with what may be the apogee of the whole album. A section of rising dissonance, chords dropped and decimated, brutalised and juxtaposed, as shifts and spiralling tensions presage the coming beatitude, enfolded with ominous fervour and bonded to a thematic thread of redemption. The crescendo impacts in an orgasmic spasm as an ethereal guitar-keyboard unison gushes forth, palliating the preceding discord in harmonious glory, and bringing the song to a serene terminus.

It’s difficult to surpass that moment of ecstasy and many other tracks fail outright to come close. ‘Forsaken’s crisp rock riffs and spindly guitar histrionics make for a decent song, and it certainly holds potential for radio airplay were its inevitable status as single number two to be granted, yet its longevity is severely under suspicion. Its accessible sheen may end up consigning ‘Forsaken’ to the harsh pastures of album-filler. ‘Constant Motion’, single numero uno, fairs slightly better, with a cavalcade of chunky riffs propelled by Portnoy’s supra-Ulrichian drumming. Soaked in Metallica citations, power chords and truculent displays of palm-muting are the order of the day here. It does indeed accomplish its appellation promise, driven as much by the hoarse vocal front-end as by the rhythm section. Yet, again, it’s hardly ‘Under A Glass Moon’.

‘The Dark Eternal Night’ picks up where songs such as ‘The Glass Prison’ and ‘Honor Thy Father’ left off, that is to say, brandishing pummelling riffs executed with relentless resolve over a persistent ream of bludgeoning attack (and often just as stilted as this sentence). However, as much as portions therein veer on electrifying complexity, with disinterest smote by expeditiously elaborate fret-showmanship, all too often banalities crop up. This is epitomised as the song winds down with the inclusion of the St Anger riff, a piece of music so dull and plodding as to make one wish they had nougat with which to pack their ears. Its binary opposite fades in through the last wisps of a dying seven-string as we are dealt a sudden change of mood. ‘Repentance’ is the latest instalment of the series of songs penned by Portnoy based on his encounters with the AA 12-step program. This sprawling, brooding piece is a splendid deceleration in the overall suite, replacing grinding double-bass with an atmospheric, dreamy soundscape that drifts along over pensive piano.

Despite the glaring criticisms above, the last three songs are each a work of wonder, this triumvirate of eye-watering grace is spectacular enough to redeem every faulty precursor. First item of salvation, lifting us directly from the mires below, is ‘Prophets of War’. It may resume Dream Theater’s zeal for Muse (the opening keyboard arpeggios disquietingly mirror the latter’s ‘Take A Bow’), but the energy permeating every Queen-esque wail and every bouncing techno beat far exceed the shackles of Bellamy and co. The song culminates in a breakdown portal satiated with Portnoy’s rapping angst, which switches, via an acoustic interlude, to a vivacious chorus reinforced by an almost-hallucinatory progression of lustrous riffing.

‘The Ministry of Lost Souls’ begins and ends awash with grandeur. Some murmurs have identified this particular track as the highlight, and while I wouldn’t manoeuvre quite to that stance, it is nonetheless a joyous fifteen minutes. It sweeps from poignant moments where Petrucci whips out some prized gems from his chord catalogue to a heavy middle section that exemplifies the ability of the band to conjure up wholly marvellous passages of instrumental music, imbuing an unfolding continuum of technicality with a quality of interest preserved. Petrucci’s singing guitar, resonating in impassioned colours, concludes matters, orbiting the aural fissures ad infinitum, cycled to stillness.

As already remarked on, ‘In The Presence of Enemies’ is my choice cut from Systematic Chaos. ‘Part 1’ may be a sublime creation, but ‘Part 2’ succeeds in bettering its twin’s elated heights. Loaded with homologies pointing to ‘Octavarium’, from the gradual amplification to the symphonic finale, as well as the explicit subdivision into sovereign segments, this song trundles through a panoply of tones, united by overarching conceptual insignia, with recurring motifs cropping up at certain intervals. The clamorous mid-section, replete with dynamic chants and a throbbing D-string, and the prophesised instrumental break are only two of the many peaks of ‘In The Presence of Enemies Part 2’.

Dream Theater’s latest sonic beast may vacillate slightly in terms of quality, lacking the bite of consistency that used to swallow up whole albums, but it is far from being tarnished with nadirs, swollen in a dearth of monumentality. Failure to attain perfection is one thing, but overall the band have conceived a fantastic album, bursting with triumphant crests of auditory jubilation, whose zeniths are comparable to anything hitherto released.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Since there’s been a dastardly lack of updates spun around the fibres of Generic Mugwump lately, I feel obliged to fill this silence with a murmur or two. Allow me to begin with a banal mourning of mental energies, torn as they were from the frontal lobe by devious burdens masquerading as postmen, consequently hindering all attempts to smack the instruments of Microsoft PLC with a choice selection of arcane terminology and arbitrary allusions to high modernism. Oh yes, a tear for the obstructed Fahey, languishing in a gutter atop the corroded thoroughfares of the mind, tales of Bearded Fahey sutured to the tumescent girth of the Earth’s crust, nascent ideas discarded one by one, grand narratives dissolved by the vomitory rush of lackadaisy, conceptualisations of epic conflict floating over and above the temporal and the spatial flagellated by apathy, those carefully conceived words purloined by extraneous enterprises. Ah, the missed reviews, films and the critical considerations thereof swelling the head only to be jettisoned alongside a host of viscous tribulations.

But enough of that. Now commences the central thread of this rambling discourse.

Allow me point the humble visitor of this word emporium in the direction of two sites that, with my sincere conjecture, highly deserve your patronage. First of all there’s The Film Fiend. This cornucopia of pithy pronouncements concerning the cinematic arts is the lair of one T. Rigney, a man famed for his awesome B-Movie of the Week feature over at Blogcritics. In his natural habitat, Rigney critically ambulates through an array of films, the type conjoined to colossal names such as Gary Daniels and Vinnie Jones, you know the sort, masterpieces hidden underneath the crushing weight of authorial ineptitude, the dearth of production resources and disastrously mediocre thespians. These curious artefacts conceal their profundity behind a wealth of misrecognition devices, from subverting continuity to boom mikes subtly penetrating the frame – the stratagems through which a film like Mansquito can evade the clutches of the canon are infinite. Rigney, I feel, has the sentient awareness of this phenomenon coursing through his veins, hence the excellence of the Film Fiend project.

The other locus of interest to be remarked upon here is Shreyashi Ganguly’s Curious Insanity blog. This collection of musings – ruminations on the symptoms of our ‘insane world’ – finds itself textured by a very expressive lexicon, an impeccable grasp of the dance of language, from the ballet of metaphor to the waltz of polysyllabics. Clearly well acquainted with the pulsations of literary decency, Ganguly presents articulate considerations of black eyes ailing the culture, opining the recent spate of biographical books causing orgiastic fervour in the reading public and smearing whatever integrity the book shops have remaining. Thoughts smoothed and caressed by gentle inclusions of Woody Allen references and understated gestures to Images & Words simply colour the fantastic writing all the more.

These merit more than a mere disregarding, a flippant signifier of disinterest, an insolent spit towards. No, go and visit them, do it. These two catalogues of captivating reflection and articulate promulgation merit identification, for they are conspicuous in the sea of so much pedestrian and predictable guff that is the internet – they protrude from the truisms and immature rantings that constitute mighty portions of, for instance, the famed blogosphere. Why waste time elsewhere when you can find yourself entertained and mentally stimulated with the specific operations hitherto delineated?

I might also draw attention here to the other assorted names and shrines listed in the sidebar, each and every one of them garners my endorsement, go and cast thy eyes upon their golden insights.