Monday, July 20, 2015

Magical Realism: Northern Exposure 25 Years Later

Who are any of us? Are we one person fixed at birth or do we grow like a snow ball coming down the mountainside of life? Or can we change? Shed our skin? The caterpillar becomes the butterfly, leaving the remains of his former self behind. I look at my yearbook photo, class '81, and I wonder who that stranger is. Damn if I know, maybe that's the point, maybe we are not supposed to know, maybe that's what this earthly joyride is all about. Like Robert Frost said 'We dance around the ring and suppose, but the secret sits in the middle and knows."
   --The wisdom of Chris Stevens, poured out over the airwaves of KBHR,
Northern Exposure

On July 12, 1990, an eight-episode summer replacement series about a New York doctor displaced in a quirky Alaskan town debuted on CBS. No one expected much of it, but when it left the air on July 26, 1995, Northern Exposure had launched several careers, won multiple Emmys and Peabodys, and stretched the boundaries of style, tone and genre in ways that outlined the future of television. I remember the series and explore its influences in a piece up at

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Beach Blanket Bang-o: Point Break

Point Break (1991) is all about disguises, identities, doppelgangers-- so what might we learn by comparing the trailer for its remake (seen above), with the trailer for the original Kathryn Bieglow film, as seen below?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Act of Not Having An Act: Cameron Crowe

Quintessential Nice Guy, or Wary Optimist? On the eve of the release of his latest film, Aloha, I explore the work of Cameron Crowe for, where the line between "cool" and "uncool" fades into something richer, more creative, and possibly tinged with grace.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Everyone's A Hero In Their Own Way: On Joss Whedon & Superheroics

As longtime readers of the blog know, Joss Whedon is one of my favorite TV auteurs-- from Buffy to Angel to Firefly and beyond, his blend of wit, melodrama, meta-play and endless, geeky passion has made every TV project (yes, even Dollhouse!) a must-see for me. With his new Avengers film opening in just a few days, I take some time to trace and explore the ways in which the superhero and the Marvel style were present in his work from the beginning. The piece is up at, and I want to thank its marvelous editors, Matt Zoller Seitz and Brian Tallerico, for letting me go on at length about it all (and for making it look so shiny with all the great images!)

Friday, January 23, 2015

2014 In Review: In Love With Defeat

This is the first in what (I hope) will be a recurring series of posts about stuff I watched, read, listened to, and otherwise absorbed over the last twelve months. Yeah, it's 2015 now, but isn't that the best moment to look back? 

In June 2013, Edward Snowden absconded with thousands of stolen files from Booz Allen Hamilton and Dell, purporting to reveal earth-shaking national security secrets. Melodramatic rumors swirled about each new bit of his escape, with each new imagined homeland-- Cuba? Brazil? China? Germany?--a signifier of various flashpoints in world history; it was an unintentional Surrealist tour of failed 20th century utopias. Poetically, then, his final destination was Russia, a space whose history of resistance and psychological weight on the imagination is still strong enough for many to overlook its current, rather-less-utopic regime.  But the space in which Snowden and all of his Boswells really live (no links--please, you know who they are) is virtual. It's not just through the files he stole, slowly dolled out in PowerPoint links to eager readers of the Guardian and other outlets, but the way he's become less a person than a disconnected set of images and meanings across multiple screens: blogs, comments sections, movies, and the pathetically vulnerable, often slowly buffering images of Snowden himself talking on TV screens to conferences where he is welcomed as a tech-bro hero. We might be told by surprisingly credulous sources that "Edward Snowden is not the story here," but he remains the best part of the story because the confluence of his hiding in Moscow and his subsequent digitization means he can be photo-shopped into anything we want: hero, traitor, pawn, poet of revolution. He's become a real-life Vision: everywhere and nowhere at once, full of information and so disassembled (to say nothing of dissembled) across the virtual that he no longer has control of its impact. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

What Kind of Day Has It Been?

So, here are some things that have happened in the last four-and-a-half years:

I finished, defended, formatted, and turned in a 230-page dissertation about anecdotes and Hollywood. I got married. One job ended. Another job began. That job ended, and still another one began. A good friend of mine died of cancer, suddenly and shockingly, five weeks after a diagnosis that stunned everyone (she was, as far as everyone knew, active and healthy as all-get-out, and a hell of a soccer player). I started freelance writing for film and pop culture sites (you can see a portfolio of some of those pieces here), and also began a sideline in corporate copy-writing. I got a contract to write a book about U2, which I will be finishing shortly. I wrote an academic piece on Mad Men, and am in the midst of another about Bruce Springsteen. Other book projects are in various states of gestation. There was family, and travel, and the kinds of self-evaluations and retrenchments and self-recognitions that can really only come out of periods of shift and change-- recognitions that can be overwhelming in the moment, but are ultimately productive and transformative. All in all, I'd say that--not so much despite but because of all the rapid change in the last four years--I am in a much better place than I was when the long, strange trip began.

"Why is he telling us all this?," you might be asking yourself. Well, partially it's the nature of the blog: I want the links between life and text/subject to be there, even just in an implied or oblique way. This isn't a for-profit site, or a formal, academic site (although by both nature and training, I can't help but draw on that language). Even more than in other places where I write, this is a conversation (I sometimes look at my "clicked-on" & follower numbers, and wonder how one-sided that conversation is, but nevertheless). I want that conversation to be funny and engaging and helpful, but also a bit more intimate than it might be in other spaces. This was true seven years ago, when I said hello and started blogging like a madman, certain I'd never have enough thoughts to fill a space like this for very long (so casually nervous was I at the start, that I didn't even bother to italicize titles, something that now mortifies me). And it's true now, as the blogging has slowed, and there have been a few more picture-driven posts, and a few less text-heavy ones. I once thought an alternate title for the blog might be An X-Ray Of My Head, since a lot of me went into the posts, in the manner of Pauline Kael referring to her film reviews as a kind of coded autobiography. "It's always someone's voice," Roland Barthes wrote, and I think it's valuable to occasionally, more explicitly let you know where that voice is, and where it's been.

Another reason is that, well, the voice has slowed a bit in recent years, and I wanted to touch on a few reasons why. I don't believe there's any obligation to blog every day (even if I'm kind of in awe of folks who can do that, day in and out, and do it so well), but I didn't think it would ever slow to six posts in one year. What can I say? Things have been crazybusy, and life should always trump blog. While I hold to this like a writerly catechism--and feel tempted to paraphrase the great President Bartlet: Those who don't like it can read someone else's blog--I wanted to explain my occasionally lengthy absences (in one of those moments of serendipity that this blog lives for, I-Tunes' "shuffle" function just called up INXS' "Disappear"-- twenty-first century, I love you).

The final reason is that, over the next week or so, I want to start blogging about the stuff that's fascinated me over the last twelve months. Sure, sure-- all those bourgeois blogs out there foolishly get their year-end lists out before the end of the year. Suckers. My brilliant plan was to wait until 2015 to regale you with my musings about 2014-- after all, what if something important happened on New Year's Eve??

No, that's crap, actually-- it's just my usual busy schedule (although, as it turns out, I didn't catch up with one thing I want to write about until Dec. 31, and a few more in the days that have followed, so there). But the business (and busyness) of life means that I haven't seen enough movies to do a film list, or listened to enough albums to do a music list, or read enough comics to-- well, you get the point. And my brain doesn't work like that, anyway (I don't think anyone who studied Comp Lit has a brain that works like that). This blog (and my brain) is more like an associative web, a voice with a Tristam Shandy-like tendency to be logorrheic and jump the tracks to the next new thing.

So, over the next week I want to offer "Stuff Brian's Been Enjoying: 2014" (that's a working title, you realize), a potpourri of all kinds of media I've been consuming and enjoying over the last year, not all of it actually released last year (I don't buy the Richard Brody line on time, history, cinema, and consumption, and stand more with the old NBC promotional tag: "If you haven't seen it, it's new to you!"). And even if you have seen it, I hope I'm able to spin it for you in a manner that's engaging, informative, and maybe even funny (I can dream...).

Bubblegum Aesthetics 2.0 starts now. Happy new year, everyone!