Thursday, November 15, 2007

Air Ducted

As Agent Dana Scully explores the Eurisko building's ventilation system, as detailed in the X-Files episode "Ghost in the Machine", we witness a special instance of three personal pet peeves coinciding in a single moment.

1. Air Ducts
Have you, valued reader, ever been in an air duct? You have not. Don't get confused by hazy memories based on a pazillion movies and TV shows, but have you ever really seen such an air duct? You've probably never fired two guns at once, been attacked by a killer you presumed was dead, or dangled off a building, either, but at those exciting action/adventure cliches are fun in the moment, and based on recognizable real-world objects and events you have witnessed. But look around the room. Do you see an air duct? Do buildngs, even offices, military instalations, or abandoned factories converted into cocaine manufacturing plants have air ducts large enough to house a full-grown adult? While we all posess some small degree of latant claustrophobia, is it thrilling to watch people wriggle around in these imaginary silver tubes, which seem to have no correlative?

I hate air duct scenes.

2. Killer Computer Episode
Every fantasy, sf, or horror program will get around to the Killer Computer episode, if left to its own devices long enough. There's nothing inherently wrong with contemplative sf asking tough, orginal, informed questions about AI... but obviously most Killer Computer episodes fail the basic driving test. As Mr. S.L. Jackson once said, I hate this hacker crap, and worse, I hate hearing fake compu-gobbledygook. "Ghost in the Machine" brings up the important issue of "what if a computer was like a crazy panther and when threatened, started biting people?" The answer is: Scully would have to climb into an air duct.

The X-Files managed to squeeze one in by episode seven! At least Buffy the Vampire Slayer was refined enough to hold off till episode eight. "Ghost in the Machine" is fair-to-poor as the show finds its sea legs, and chock-a-block with rips from 2001 and Gremlins 2 (including... AIR DUCTS!), but sadly is only the first of The X-Files half-dozen Killer Computer episodes in nine seasons. Snore-baiting as the surfeit of demonic microprocessors may be, for sheer numbers it runs well behind such X-Files Mad Libs episode templates as Revengy Ghost (easily the winner), Supernatural M.O.'d Serial Killer (also uncountable), Idyllic Small Town Where Something Isn't Right and its frequent twin Occult Murder Club Confidential. This brings us to...

3. Mytharc Vs. Monster of the Week: How to Watch The X-Files
This one's X-F specific. The strong public preference for the scarier, less-convuluted MOTW X-Files is evident once more, as news/discussion/indifference spreads of the impending second feature film spin-off. Conventional wisdom is that either the Mytharc episodes - those detailing a baroque government conspiracy and its connection to various and sundry UFO-stuffs - were either boring to begin with, or eventually became coy with their secrets, jumbled in logic, or petered out due to poor planning. And therefore the stand-aloneish episodes are superior. And nearly every fan-favorite list will be populated by the same two dozen highlights of the scariest, funniest, and most innovative episodes.

But that's just the peeve that I've gotta pet. Conservatively, the Mytharc is a third of the series. Realistically, the continuing mystery of the Consortium, the nature of alien phenomena, and the quest for Samantha Mulder is what fueled the popular frenzy over the program for the first several years, and set it apart from the pack as more than a handsomly photographed Kolchack: The Night Stalker variation. It is the heart and soul of the series narrative. Undeniably botched and confusing as the yarn became as it tangled into unrecognizable knots, the mishandling of the Mytharc is symptomatic of the entire series. Character arcs became illogical, plot points were dropped or revised, storytelling was mud-clear as a matter of course not just over the Mytharc, but during dozens of individual episodes, including Monster of the Week installments. For every beloved "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" and "War of the Coprophages" there are two "Sanguinarium"s. Two "Ghost in the Machine". You say you don't like the Mytharc, and you're denying yourself the operatic heights of "The Red and the Black", and "The Sixth Extinction" and the most intimate character moments of "One Breath", "The Blessing Way", and "Gethsemane" - some of the best writing the series has to offer.

The Myth, see, it isn't just about keeping track of alien factions and wondering what the hell happened to the morphing bounty hunters. That story, as a story is irresponsibly handled. They broke it, if you buy it, try not to cut your fingers on the jagged edges. Instead, focus on the moment-to-moment, the only way The X-Files can hang together, and see the whole nine-season thing is Mytharc. In the end, Mytharc episodes are just as stand-alone as any other; the show is crafted to work scene to scene, act break to act break. It's about how thrilling, suspenseful, intriguing, funny, scary or sweet the moment can be, even if it's to be negated in the next scene. The MOTW episodes reenforce the Arc, because it's about the characters on what passes for a journey, beat to beat. So those romantic moments where Scully and Mulder sit on the rock together in the middle of a lake and talk about Moby-Dick in "Quagmire", a fine Low-Rent Loch Ness Monster of the Week: that's Mytharc in a sense. The Arc brought them there.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Performance and Image/ Circle and Diagonal

Strange visual resonance found on the covers of two upcoming Criterion Collection releases.

What can it mean? Will you close your eyes and refuse this disconcerting correlation? Or like the churchgoers faced with the mural of destruction in The Seventh Seal, will you look and think upon it until it becomes more frightening? The bottom image appears when the two covers are laid upon one another. Otherwise polarized, the nodes where the photos connect allow both covers full 360-degree transformation. The motionless wet-wool blanket sky of the Bergman set (fast inside, slow outside), the sickened buzz-blur of the Two-Lane Blacktop landscape (slow inside, fast outside). Both fine snapshot summaries of the respective films, now both images roil and fuzz out, with the friction of their opposite approaches to the same existential conundrum. The sea and pavement become rippling solid. A man perches atop a spinning wheel. The '55 Chevy points off to contemplate an empty