Quake isn’t a game. That’s the big misconception people have about it. It was an advanced 3D demo, intended to show off John Carmack’s latest tricks so he could sell his engine to licensees. It’s a product for modders and hackers and people who knew what “IPX tunneling” and “strafe jumping” meant. If you picked it up expecting to install it and have a good time, then the joke’s on you.
Gotta hand it to Carmack, this is one hell of an engine demo. For the first time, we were three fucking D. What does that mean? Better perception of height and depth. Variable camera angles. Light and shadow maps. More elaborate architecture (remember, in Doom you couldn’t even have a room on top of another room). Network architecture also got a shot in the arm, Quake ditches Doom’s clumsy ad hoc netplay for a contemporary server/client model, meaning you got to enjoy nice low latency while a 13 year old calls you a faggot.
But there’s no game, and that can’t be emphasised enough. The storyline could be written on a postcard (using a paintgun as a pen). The weapons are mostly copies of Doom’s. There is exactly one good monster in the game. The bosses are of the “push a button and watch it fall over dead” variety. There was more environmental interaction in Commander Keen.
Quake gets called a horror game, for some reason. Other than a Lovecraftian tilt to some of the artwork, most of the game’s ambience stems from technical limitations. Quake out of the box uses a range of 256 colors (well, 226, to be exact), meaning lightmaps utterly hog the palette (every single tone needs like 16 lighter/darker versions of itself). The verdict? You’re running around gray castles…but they’re very realistically lit gray castles! In movies, they say that it takes a lot money to make something look shitty. Quake was a game people bought 200Mhz Pentiums to play, but visually it looks like something you’d scrape off your shoes.
The single player mode is six hours of running around brown/grey castles, collecting keys. Multiplayer consists of trying to play the maps that came with the game, realising they suck, and downloading better ones from the internet.
Ditto for everything about Quake. It just feels unfinished. The weapons, the monsters…everything’s a placeholder reading [INSERT MORE COMPELLING CONTENT HERE]. This game begs you to mod it, and reskin it, and make it into something worth playing. You are the variable in Quake’s quality, not the developers. The power is in your hands!
Quake is the stone soup of PC gaming – a vaporous non-product that only becomes valuable when you put additional effort into it. It’s impressive as an engine demo, but those degrade at exactly the speed of Moore’s Law. The best FPS games lengthen their replay value with content, but that wasn’t the priority here. By the time you realised Quake was a lemon, you’d already bought it.
I still play Duke Nukem 3D and Blood. Though I don’t hate it, I cannot fathom a universe where I ever replay Quake. It’s a museum piece now, and you know what happens to those. They put them behind glass, and you’re not supposed to touch it.No Comments »
TV killed the radio star, but it created the radio star first. “Rock Around the Clock” was a megahit, the song that helped launch the rock and roll genre, but upon its initial release in 1954 it was a commercial failure. Only after it found its way into the credits of the Blackboard Jungle did it climb the charts. A lesson was learned: if you want a hit, get it in a movie.
Music benefits from a visual component, then, now, and always. Start pulling the threads that start with the ceremonial dancing of the Bhimbetka (documented thirty thousand years ago on a cave wall) and you can follow it through to the Greek tragedies, Japanese kabuki theater, the first “talkies”, Michael Jackson’s music videos, the tacky 8-bit LSD visualisations of mp3 players, and so forth. A photogenic element lets music work from another, more literal dimension – for example, taking the implied “scariness” of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor and making it explicit with horror visuals.
The visuals of a movie likewise benefit from sound, in a way that isn’t immediately obvious. We walk around with our experiences clouded by some emotional content, good or bad, and you never experience anything its own. When you eat a pastry you’re also eating the argument you had five minutes ago: you will enjoy the pastry less because you’re angry. When you spend money you’re only as happy or unhappy as the thought of how much is left in the balance. But most of this is gone in a movie – you’re watching a recorded slice of fake reality that you have no intrinsic attachment to. A soundtrack helps recolour all of the moments that have been bleached of their emotions by celluloid. The music acts as a little cue. “Feel sad here. Feel happy here.” That’s why scoring and foley is such an important part of film, even if it’s unmemorable on its own. Films are fake reality, and sound of all kinds is another graft of flesh over the mechanism.
But it must be depressing for a songwriter, knowing that your work will receive much of its impact from a visual component (which you had nothing to do with). It’s as bad works of literature getting culturally steamrolled by their film adaptations. Speaking of which I want to knock on Fitzgerald’s coffin and inform him that people will forevermore visualise Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay when they read The Great Gatsby. I am a bad man.
But that can’t be helped. Like Barthes said, authors are corpses who haven’t got the memo. Millions think “Born in the USA” is a patriotic anthem. That’s a valid reading, and there’s nothing the Boss or anyone else can do.
But I’ve never liked obvious soundtrack biscuits. If movies are cyborgs and music is artificial flesh, soundtrack songs are like plastic doll skin. You’re watching a movie, and then the narrative is interrupted by a cringingly obvious wannabe music video sequence. You can almost see the MTV logo appear.
In the 90s, there was a trend of songs from Disney movies becoming crossover mainstream hits. “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid won a Grammy. “A Whole New World” from Aladdin was a number one hit. From then on, every animated film needed that song. The worst was that shitty song Phil Collins put in Tarzan. You know the one. Where he doesn’t even reference the movie at all but just blandly rhapsodizes about finding yourself, et cetera.
Music and film have a troubled relationship, but they’re never far apart. Although it might seem like songs get swallowed whole by movies, subsumed until they’re just another part of the great machinery, they sometimes outlast the films they’re in. “Rock Around the Clock” achieved fame through the Blackboard Jungle, but who remembers that movie now? Bill Haley had the last laugh.
Sometimes the most insignificant things are the most enduring. Dwarves might stand on the shoulders of giants when walking through a field, but history isn’t a field, it’s quicksand. When the dwarf and the giant hit a but when the ensemble hits some soft quicksand, the giant sinks into obscurity first.No Comments »
The story could be reduced to a boring paragraph, and an (only vaguely) interesting sentence: Ralph (a brilliant inventor) must rescue a charming moll from the clutches of a Martian. The book sometimes has the subtitle “A Romance of the Year 2660”, which is more fitting, because the it’s actually the year 2660 that’s the star, not Ralph. We get taken from place to place, Gernsback showing us all sorts of fancy toys and tricks, while the plot dodders along behind like a guest that isn’t sure he’s wanted at a party.
Science fiction vide Jules Verne (and Mary Shelley) uses futuristic technology to reveal truths about the human condition. Science fiction vide HG Wells uses futuristic technology to reveal truths about society and its ordering. Science fiction vide Gernsback uses futuristic technology to reveal truths about…futuristic technology.
He shows us “telephots” (video phones), but the conversations held over them are all trivial. There’s entire newspapers held on a single sheet of paper (you view different “pages” by exposing the sheet to different lights), and tube tunnels that take you right through the center of the earth, and gyroscopes that take you to Mars, and many other things, all described with breathless, autistic zeal.
But there’s a old-fashioned quality to Gernsback’s futurism. One of the arguments brought up against alien abductions is that descriptions of alien spacecraft always seem to track mankind’s cultural aesthetics (fifty years ago the interiors were all paneled wood and bakelite, now they look like something from the X Files), and Ralph 124C 41+ is like that. A futuristic society where you still have a manservant to bring you breakfast.
Despite the clever and evocative title, (“One to forsee for many”), the prose is very bad. Dangling participles scream from the pages. Gernsback doesn’t use many commas, and untangling his clauses is a constant headacge. This aside, the book has a graceless way of just…telling you stuff. Blurting it out. Here’s where we meet Ralph:
“He yawned and stretched himself to his full height, revealing a physique much larger than that of the average man of his times and approaching that of the huge Martians. His physical superiority, however, was as nothing compared to his gigantic mind. He was Ralph 124C 41 +, one of the greatest living scientists and one of the ten men on the whole planet Earth permitted to use the Plus sign after his name.”
A modern writer would communicate this by indirect means (perhaps Ralph has to stoop to get through the doorway after coming home from an award ceremony). Gernsback just cuts right too it. “Meet Ralph, he’s big, he’s smart.” Gernsback was a man of technical inclination, a builder of wireless radios and many other thiings (Ralph 124C41+ was first serialised in an electronics magazine), and he might have not seen the point of “show, don’t tell”. An electrical manual must provide exact specifications of capacitance and resistance, not just a demonstration of the device in action, and he probably took the same lesson to his fiction. He didn’t realise that fiction doesn’t traffic in information, it traffics in experience, and it’s hard to get any experience from overly-literal descriptions beyond “online dating profile.”
I was bored, and didn’t finish it. I guess this is the closest you can get to being ripped off by Gernsback in 2016, so that’s something. It’s like a cultural experience where you visit a reconstructed medieval village and they put you in the stocks for a few seconds or something. The book tries to take you to the future, but the lanes are crossed, and you end up stuck in the past.No Comments »
I didn’t believe in evolution once. There were a few reasons why, but one of them was that there didn’t seem to be enough transitional fossils. I’d heard various biologists and paleontologists say the same thing: the chain had missing links.
Now I realise that evolution, on a long enough timescale, often stops looking like a gradual slope, and starts looking like a series of steps.
Evolution often work in fits and jerks. There’s periods of rapid change (when there’s strong selective pressure), coupled with long pit stops where not much happens (the pressure relaxes). This conceit is found in several theories. Ernst Mayr’s “genetic revolutions.” Stephen Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium”.
Sometimes, this is dictated by outside pressures – climate change, or the introduction of a new competitor. Sometimes it’s dictated by the form itself. As WD Hamilton pointed out, you’d expect a complete flying creature to be more successful than a semi-evolved creature with half-grown wings. Once selection starts working, the creature rapidly moves through morphological space until it reaches the new optimum.
The fossil record can be likened to a ship traversing an ocean, while a satellite in space takes a photograph of it every day. Imagine the voyage takes 10 days – would you expect the 10 photos of the ship to be at perfect 10% intervals along the journey? Not hardly. There might be doldrums. There might have a strong tailwind. It might have to carefully navigate around some rocks. But this isn’t disproof of the mechanism of sail, and it’s not proof that the ship is magically teleporting from place to place. Evolution isn’t just a question of “where are we going”, it’s a question of “how quickly will we get there?”
This sort of adaptationist thinking isn’t trendy, but even an evolution driven by drift isn’t going to operate at a constant rate throughout history. The generation of mutations is modulated by a host of environmental factors (radiation, UV light), and their spread is capped by social factors. Maybe all kinds of interesting mutations developed in the humans living the New World. So what? Until 1948, none of that affected the gene pool of the humans living in Europe at all. There was a big natural barrier in the way: the Atlantic ocean.
Another thing: does something looking superficially unchanged mean it’s not evolving? The horseshoe crabs are a famous example of “living fossils”, nearly unchanged after hundreds of millions of years. But it seems they did actually change a little bit – fossilized horseshoe crabs have legs that split into two ends, while the modern kind have no split. (Perhaps there’s better examples of living fossils. Cladoselache is a Devonian fish that looks very much like a modern shark. Trigonotarbida is 400mYa old yet easily recognisable as a spider – some fossils even have spinerettes.)
I guess you always want more fossils. But when I die, the fossil record will likely keep no record of me, so who am I do to deny transitional fossils a hypothetical existence?No Comments »
As the 90s gained integers, you started to hear about “shareware” games. Instead of buying a $60.00 box of air and praying the game was as good as it looked in Nintendo Power, you actually got to play the fucker before you bought it. Imagine that! Next thing, you were up all night, watching a 2mb file called DOOM1_1.zip dribble down your dad’s 2400 baud modem.
My favourite part of gaming’s tidal changes (whether it’s the rise of the internet or the advent of CD drives) is playing all the weird crap that hit the market before the industry got its shit together. Apogee released a lot of oddball titles – you got the sense that they were seeing what would stick with the new shareware business model – and Hocus Pocus fits into that category.
Like many of their games, it was a new IP, made by an outsider with little history in the game business. It’s a side-scrolling platform game about a wizard who must collect crystal balls. You flip switches, ride elevators, fight enemies, and dodge identity theft lawsuits from Mario. The graphics are colorful, glossy and shiny, like someone sprayed the whole game with WD-40. The monsters and environments are visually creative.
Animation is a mixed bag. Some enemies run and move in a lifelike fashion, but your main character is a department store mannequin. Ditto for the audio in general. The music is half good, half unlistenable shit. The omnipresent PEW PEW PEW of Hocus firing his magic spell drove me to muting my audio.
I played the shareware version of this obsessively when I was 5 or so, becoming the intolerable local kid who would watch others play and fly into a rage at their incompetence. I played the nine levels so many times that I could draw a map of them from memory. When I revisit Hocus Pocus, I like it less and less. It’s playable and inoffensive, mostly because it’s hard to screw up platform games, but there’s not much too it.
Various things grate at me. The game has basically three enemies with different graphics. The gameplay never varies. There’s the sense that you’re playing the same level over and over with different graphics. Switch combination puzzles suck. The “jokes” sprinkled throughout probably sounded funnier on the drawing board. Super Mario Bros makes it look as shallow as a kid’s wading pool, and that’s bad. SMB should be the standard that platform games build on, not an insurmountable mile-high yardstick.
I never bothered with the full version. Shareware had a dark side – usually the paid version was just the free version + some more levels + maybe a new weapon or something. Very few Apogee titles were worth getting in full (Raptor being a notable exception). In some ways, Apogee made arcade games for the PC. Remember how Mortal Kombat would always leave you wanting more at the arcades but as soon as you got it for a home console you’d be sick of it, like, yesterday? Same story here. Some games are best confined to small doses.
As far as I know it works on Dosbox if you play without audio (no great loss). As was their policy, Apogee magnanimously allowed developers to retain the copyright on their worthless IPs, and so the developers theoretically could have started a Hocus Pocus burger chain or something. They didn’t.No Comments »
Music is a form of art, and although there are many ways to define art, one definition is “intentional specialness”. We live in a universe ruled by randomness and chaos, and things that aren’t chaotic (meaning they have elements of planning, intention, predictability, uniqueness, etc underpinning them) register in our minds as interesting.
Put another way: the universe is a random series of numbers (1, 4, 2, 7, 9, 3, 6, 4, 1, 2) while art is a non-random series (1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4).
Art is a man-made island of reason in an ocean of stochastic chaos. Even works of art that seem chaotic (like a Jackson Pollock painting) have “intentionality” behind them. Pollock wants his paintings to look that way. It’s not an accident.
Listen to the sounds around you. Bird chirps. The humming of an air conditioner. A passing car. All of it’s just a boring canvas of random noise. But then, consider music: a series of frequencies carefully arranged in time by a composer. A steady beat. A steady rhythm. An E superimposed over a C# to create a sad minor third. A submediant (VI) resolving back to the tonic (I). All of it planned, all of it deliberate.
The power of music isn’t that it sounds pleasant (noise rock, death metal, etc). It’s that it’s special!
So why does music sound empty to you?
Assuming your brain is neurologically undamaged, my guess is that you’ve listened to so much of it that the “specialness” has gone away. That it’s been a part of your life for so long that your brain has totally habituated to it and you no longer perceive it as distinct or different to the rest of the background noise in the world.
William S Burroughs said that the new addicts shoot smack to feel good, while old addicts shoot smack to feel normal. And eventually you stop feeling anything at all.
We rely on specialness to give our lives meaning, but it’s short lived and easily destroyed. The first act of sexual intercourse on a movie screen was a transgressive, outrageous statement. The 2,436,734th act of sexual intercourse was just lazy button-pushing.
But people still keep trying. Much of our lives are spent shuffling around in the dark, trying to recapture the ghost of specialness that was exorcised long ago.No Comments »
An internet celebrity would probably read the poem and think Ozymandias had it easy. He lost his empire, but at least he left behind two trunkless legs of stone and an inscription. A Vine star can disappear entirely. There are no low and level sands: the internet in 2016 is more like an ocean of quicksand in 9-magnitude earthquake riding a subducting tectonic plate straight into the asthenosphere. Changing trends, changing media, nobody having any clear idea what works and what doesn’t…Fame achieved on the internet is only slightly longer-lasting than fame achieved by starring in an ISIS beheading video.
Time for my quarterly Maddox check-in. Yep, still alive.
I’ve written before about how I obsessively check everyone I’ve ever heard of to make sure they haven’t died. In Maddox’s case, I check to make sure he hasn’t committed suicide. He just seems like he’s on that road. He updates his website with bitter rants with zero jokes. He alienates friends and business partners. He actively repudiates much of his early writings – you get the vibe of an aging musician insulting the hits that brought him fame. His last book failed. His next one will probably do the same. Everything I see from him depresses me.
When I first found him in 2004, he was at the top of his game. He had a hilarious shtick (which I’d describe as “smart person pretending to be stupid person pretending to be a smart person”…read his stuff and you’ll get it), a series of wildly popular viral articles, and rabbit ears for internet culture of the time (SomethingAwful, bash.org, etc). His site was getting monstrous amounts of traffic, with zero promotion. He inspired countless imitators.
Around 2005, gaps between articles started going from weeks to months. From September 2007 to September 2010 he published a whopping six articles. And this was around the point where you could no longer afford to do that – the internet was changing, and it went from “charismatic writers with loyal followings” to “clickbait writers dangling shiny objects in front of your face, and hoping you weren’t distracted by an even shinier object”. By the time Maddox finally came “back” (sorta), he’d lost all the momentum he’d built up. His articles now get tens of thousands of hits. It used to be millions.
He’s still an interesting person. Not so much for the content he’s putting out (which is sporadic and shitty), but for the brief glimpses behind the curtain.
He seems to be trying to rebrand, to “pivot”, as political wonks are saying now. This video has been edited to include a grovelling “explanation” of why he used the word “gay”. His rejection of his first book is a calculated move to deflect blowback from a passage that appears to recommend sexual assault (if you’re an idiot with no understanding of satire or humor). I don’t know why he even bothers. The people who are offended by such things are intractable to apologies. They don’t want him to grovel, they just want him destroyed.
To be fair, he’s always been a conflicted guy. What I liked about his occasional forays into politics was that he’d be so unpredictable in his stances. On some topics he’d lean left, on others right, on still others he’d take a view shared by no political ideology I’m aware of.
But now he’s virtually repudiating his edgelord past. It’s a shame, but it’s not surprising. People get older, and people change. Tucker Max is now an entrepreneur. Thilo Savage took down his site after it apparently caused problems for his professional career. Robert Hamburger…god, I don’t even know. If I think too much about him I’ll read Real Ultimate Power one last time.
A shattered visage.No Comments »
“Nothing taught by force stays in the soul.” Plato
“Men more frequently require to be reminded than informed.” Samuel Johnson
“According to a rule of thumb among engineers, any tenfold quantitative change is a qualitative change, a fundamentally new situation rather than a simple extrapolation. ‘More is different.'” –Philip Warren Anderson
“I remember asking a wise man, once . . . ‘Why do Men fear the dark?’ . . . ‘Because darkness’ he told me, ‘is ignorance made visable.’ ‘And do Men despise ignorance?’ I asked. ‘No,’ he said, ‘they prize it above all things–all things!–but only so long as it remains invisible.” ? R. Scott Bakker, The Judging Eye
“The cognitive functioning of a human brain depends on a delicate orchestration of many factors, especially during the critical stages of embryo development—and it is much more likely that this self-organizing structure, to be enhanced, needs to be carefully balanced, tuned, and cultivated rather than simply flooded with some extraneous potion.”
? Nick Bostrom, Superintelligence
“The original is unfaithful to the translation.”
? Jorge Luis Borges
“Was it you that killed me, or did I kill you?” Abel answered. “I don’t remember anymore; here we are, together, like before.”
“Now I know that you have truly forgiven me,” Cain said, “because forgetting is forgiving. I, too, will try to forget.”
? Jorge Luis Borges
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
? Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
“It reminds me of a story that Ulysses S. Grant tells in his memoirs about a night he spent on the wild prairies of East Texas. He and a fellow officer were near Goliad when they heard “the most unearthly howling of wolves” directly in front of them. They couldn’t see the wolves through the tall prairie grass, but the men knew they were near. The other officer asked Grant how many wolves he thought were in the pack. Grant, not wanting to seem afraid, tried to lowball the number at twenty […] The men arrived to find just two lone wolves sitting on their haunches. These were the sole animals who had made all the noise that had scared Grant so badly, that had convinced him he was overwhelmingly outnumbered. Four decades later, after a full life in public service and politics, Grant would relate that he often thought of this incident when he heard of a group changing course due to criticism or someone giving up because they were deterred by an unseen enemy. The lesson in such situations, he concluded, was this: “There are always more of them before they are counted.” – Ryan HolidayNo Comments »
There’s a pianist joke that goes something like “When [butt of joke] started to play, Steinway himself came down personally and rubbed his name off the piano.” Some works would are improved by an attachment to their creator, others degraded. Thomas Pynchon and JD Salinger are/were notorious recluses who feel/felt that nothing about them should reach the wider world, except their books. This might be the polar opposite, a boos that’s almost worthless on its own merits, but gains a degree of interest through its connection to Kathy Acker.
In short, it’s the story of the author going to Haiti and having sex with several people there. I don’t know if it’s autobiographical, or intended as a riff on Cole Porter’s “Katie Goes to Haiti” (I suspect the latter).
It’s easier to say what it isn’t than what it is. It’s not experimental, and not particularly Burroughs inspired. There’s no cut-up prose. There’s sexual content, but no violence. It’s short but still overlong, with many pages detailing Kathy’s transport and lodging arrangements, as well as uneventful conversations with natives.
Kathy’s descriptions of carnal knowledge read like stereotypical male pornography. No “and then our HEARTS became as ONE”, just hyperbolic and florid descriptions of erogenous zones grinding. Towards the end, she abandons the “sexcation” angle and strays into political and social commentary.
If this wasn’t written by Acker, it would probably be instantly forgettable. But coming from one of the most notorious and difficult Beat Generation artists, you’d start to speculate on the whys and the wherefores. In other words, Acker’s name was a treasure map, so I was inspired to dig in barren soil.
The boring longeurs might be a parody of holiday writing (sun-kissed people giving you the blow-by-blow real estate dossier of their hotel suite, under the impression that this is as interesting to you as it is to them.) The male-oriented pornography might be a statement on…something. Cameras as phallic objects. Male gaze.
The political angle at the end is the most interesting, particularly in contrast. At the start, everyone she meets is happy, welcoming her with open arms and open legs. On the strength of her first few hours, Haiti is paradise on earth. But the further Kathy strays from the main tourist towns, she encounters other things: poverty, disaffection, and fear. Don’t forget, this book was written during the auspice of Papa Doc and Baby Doc. I heard someone say “Minnesota Nice is when you wait until someone’s left the room until you backtalk them.” Likewise, I’ve always thought that extreme, showy openness of much of the third world is often a mask for something.
It’s not much of a book no matter how you judge it, but it’s interesting. The Beat Generation was like Monty Python: most of their juice comes from surprise, and their defiance of convention. Here’s the ultimate and most cynical execution of that: a book that’s almost completely normal. Probably hard to find, but the things Acker wrote about aren’t. In fact, they’ve probably become even more common since her day, for better or for worse.No Comments »
Once, I heard a description of Family Guy that cuts right to the heart of the show’s failings. “The Simpsons, if every character was Homer.” Everyone’s crazy, everyone’s a clown, everyone’s the Lord of Misrule. Everyone’s a Punch and nobody’s a Judy. It’s a common failing in comedy: “the straight guy is boring. The screwball gets the laughs. So if we eliminate the straight guy and have two screwballs, it will be twice as funny!”
The straight guy provides ballast, you fool. Comedy’s like a game of table tennis. You can get pretty creative playing it, slamming balls off the wall while standing on your head. But it only works if you have a stable, unmoving net.
Ichi the Killer is not quite a comedy but has a similar weakness. It draws us (or perhaps anti-draws, given that it’s an adaptation of a Hideo Yamamoto manga) into the world of sadistic yakuza enforcers, and asks us to bask in the sangfroid of one particular sadistic yakuza enforcer, who is different to the others to the extent that he has scars on his face.
I don’t know what’s supposed to be shocking and awful and Ichi. Everyone in this film is a repulsive person. Gangsters crack jokes while scraping bloody remains off ceilings. Sociopathic prostitutes manipulate their johns. The movie sets gray against a backdrop of slightly lighter gray. It’s a good setting, but it needs some contrast. It needs a “straight guy”. It’s Family Guy all over again. If Homer’s the baseline, then Homer stops seeming shocking and funny – he’s just just the way things are.
I like the scars on Ichi’s face. A “Glasgow smile”, as they call it a few thousand miles away. The film’s best scene comes early on, where we see Ichi blow smoke through the cuts.
Elsewhere, the film’s aesthetic is less successful. The violence is undercut by the fact that 1) the effects are cheap and 2) the acting doesn’t sell us on the brutality. There’s a scene where Ichi tortures a man by puncturing his cheeks with an alarmingly huge pin…and in between bouts the man speaks calmly and lucidly. It’s like watching a WWE pay-per-view where wrestlers bounce back up after getting chairs smashed over their head.
Later, the effects team just gives up trying. CGI looked better in 1993. The remaining wheels fall off the movie’s wagon when we get to horrible special effects that look like a SyFy movie made in an antifreeze lab.
I haven’t read the manga, although I read Yamamoto’s other big work: Homunculus. It was fascinating, for what it was, but he doesn’t seem to be very adaptable as a mangaka. That might have been Ichi the Killer’s undoing. Generally, there are two schools of adapting manga: the first is to capture everything, the second is to try to capture the “spirit”. Both of them can fail horribly, but in unique ways. Judging unseen, this feels like the first case. You can’t shove ten volumes of manga into a DVD player, and you shouldn’t even tr
This was crying out to be something like that Cronenberg film, Eastern Promises, particularly that scene in the bathhouse, involving linoleum cutters. That moment was what this movie dreams of being when it grows up. Now, it’s just blowing smoke.No Comments »