Mar. 12th, 2006

rfmcdonald: (Default)
Before I watched Rent last night with J., that enormously popular Jonathan Larson musical brought only two things to my mind. The first was the catchy Pet Shop Boys song "Rent", with its cynical "I love you/you pay my rent" lyric. The second was a particularly hostile article from the Atlantic Monthly in the mid-1990s, one that held up Rent as the central example of all that was wrong in Broadway.

Even after watching the film version in its entirely, and having listened to the soundtrack album in bits and pieces, I don't feel competent enough to judge Rent as a musical. Perhaps contrary to stereotype, I'm not a musical fan. It is true that, in watching the film, certain plot holes jumped out at me. Why is the character of Angel, so frequently cited as an inspiration to the group later on, so underdeveloped in the first part? Is the character of Joanne a reasonable one considering North American hierarchies of race and power? Why was Maureen's performance-art protest so important? Couldn't Chris Columbus have done something, in a movie with most of the action taking place in December 1989, about a lyrical reference to 1991's Thelma and Louisa?

Rent as a story doesn't quite hold together for me. Perhaps appropriately enough--perhaps appropriately given the genre, can anyone tell me?--it works together as a string of songs. I'm not being particularly original in identifying "I'll Cover You" as the standout track, but it is. The contrasting characters of responsibly Bohemian Marc and recklessly enthusiastic Mimi hold court over the assembled characters, as I suspect Larson intended them to. Rent might not be the best story, but it has the virtue of combining action and music rather nicely. It was worth seeing for that.
rfmcdonald: (Default)
Night Watch made me wonder if empires can ever relax and let their people have fun.

Consider that, to Western observers, Soviet cultural exports belonged almost exclusively to the domain of high culture, associated with names like Solzhenitsyn and Shostakovich. High culture is certainly capable of providing critiques of totalitarianism, as these two names demonstrate. High culture isn't populist, isn't associated with materialism, with dissent critical or otherwise, with the satiation of base needs. Imperial states need to be strong, and seek to promote popular cultures which are ostensibly high-minded and confine low culture to the margins, popular cultures which encourage uniformity. Dracula was, after all, written in the 1890s after the democratization of Britain had begun to cut into the classical rationale for empire-building. Likewise, post-Soviet Russia's most famous cultural exports as of this moment might well be TaTu and Night Watch. After empire, people relax.

rfmcdonald: (Default)
I caught up with [ profile] robertprior for CFTAG today. We'd been lcuky enough to snag the comfy chairs for an enjoyable three-hour discussion that touched upno, among other things, the challenges faced by China in its modernization (changing gender roles, massive problems of social exclusion) and the vissicitudes of roleplaying in the GURPS system.
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