No Answers. Only Choices.

(A lightly edited reprint of a recent Nowa Fantastyka column.)

My stuff has been compared, on occasion, to the work of Stanislaw Lem. I find this intimidating. It’s kind of a high bar to clear; when expectations are calibrated to such altitudes, it’s easy to fall short.

Fortunately there’s a way to distract from that constant likelihood of failure; if you’re not quite up to scrambling onto the shoulders of giants, you can always rip into the efforts of others who’ve tried. So today I’m going to take a look back at what is probably Lem’s crowning literary achievement, as interpreted through the eyes of two outsiders. One of these is Russian— Andrei Tarkovsky— and his vision has been hailed as a cinematic classic: nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, winner of the Jury Grand Prize there, winner of Japan’s Seiun Award and frequently cited as one of the greatest SF films ever made.

The other outsider is American. Steven Soderbergh’s vision won no awards, tanked so badly in theatres it never even recouped its production costs, and was reviled by no less a luminary than Salman Rushdie before it was even made.

I’m talking, of course, about Solaris. Guess which version I prefer.

It’s not that there’s anything egregiously wrong with Tarkovsky’s; it is in many ways a truly beautiful film, apparently conceived at least partly in opposition to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey but somehow ending up as more of an homage to that film. Tarkovsky’s hypnotic opening sequence, framing a lush and beautiful Earth in a series of static shots,

Which is not to say that Kubrick's vision is devoid of humanity.  You just have to look closely.

Which is not to say that Kubrick’s vision is devoid of humanity. You just have to look closely.

both echoes and contradicts the arid, hard-focus desert vistas that boot up 2001. The closing reveal of an astronaut trapped in an alien simulacrum of home is conceptually identical to the final scenes of Kubrick’s masterpiece. There’s even a man-taking-an-extremely-long-time-to-pass-through-tunnels-of-light sequence, although in Tarkovsky’s vision the highways are of human construction, the bright streamers courtesy of headlamps and taillights rather than hyperspatial stargates[1].

Although to be fair, Tarkovsky probably had a smaller budget to work with.

Although to be fair, Tarkovsky probably had a smaller budget to work with.

Tarkovsky uses his lengthy earthbound prolog to frame Solaris in an epistemological context, to question the nature and utility of knowledge itself: what’s the worth of any pile of disjointed facts, no matter how impressive, if there’s no coherent way to fit them together? Should we seek knowledge at any price? These are essential elements of Lem’s novel, and it’s nice to see them included (although apparently Lem hated the prolog in which they were conveyed). And of course, Lem’s more central rumination on the futility of communication with any truly alien intelligence is right up my alley.

So, a lot to admire. The problem I have with Tarkovsky’s Solaris is not so much with its payload as with how it’s delivered. This is a movie that tells, not shows; it’s jam-packed with monologs and arguments that belabor obvious points. People witter on endlessly about the morality of data collection, or declaim upon Man’s Place in the Cosmos while generally being assholes to one another. (One of them helpfully remarks that “We are losing our dignity and human character!”, just in case we’ve missed that point). Near the end of the film, protagonist Kris Kelvin delivers a delirious ramble about Love and Suffering.

This fondness for discourse reaches an almost ridiculous extreme within minutes of Kelvin’s arrival on the station. Almost immediately upon debarking he starts glimpsing things and people that shouldn’t be there, apparitions presenting themselves in defiance of all logic and expectation. And yet—where you and I might be inclined to grab the nearest crew member by the lapels and say “What is that dwarf doing in your cabin and how did he get here?”— Kelvin just keeps arguing with the locals about the personal integrity of his dead friend Gibarian. It’s a level of incuriosity so profound as to be almost inhuman, a triumph of verbiage over logic that runs through the whole damn movie.

Let us take a moment here to allow you all to roll your eyes at the fact that I, of all people, have the nerve to complain about talkiness in a science fiction story. There you go. Get it out of your system.

Now let’s look at the 2002 iteration of the same story.

It took three quarters of an hour to get us to Solaris in 1972. Soderburgh gets us there in seven minutes; and when we arrive we don’t find the station littered with the refuse and dismembered power cables that Tarkovsky showed us. Soderbergh’s station is pristine, icy, all mirrors and edges and gleaming alloy— which makes the bloodstains smeared across those surfaces even more ominous. Less is more: there’s a minimalism here which heightens the impact.

For chrissakes Tarkovsky, would it kill you to clean up a bit when we're having company over?

For chrissakes, Andrei, would it kill you to clean up a bit when we’re having company over?  Why can’t you be more like Steve here?

Soderbergh’s characters are more believable, too. The first time Kelvin sees someone that doesn’t belong, he gives chase; finding someone who does, his first question is What are those things? His reaction to the sudden manifestation of his dead wife at his side— shock, denial, a struggle to rein in bubbling panic and stay rational, for chrissake— is perfect.

Tarkovsky's Solaris.

Mare Tarkovskia.

Soderbergh’s movie loses more of the novel than Tarkovsky’s does, but is arguably better for it. The epistemology is mostly jettisoned (Solaristics is no esoteric quest for knowledge here, but a grubby hunt for commercial applications), and the viscous self-modeling clay of Lem’s sentient ocean has been replaced by a luminous world suffused in flickering aurorae and sheet lightning. Maybe there’s still an ocean down there, generating all those lights. Maybe it’s something else entirely. The movie doesn’t say; nowhere throughout those stripped-down 94 minutes does anyone explicitly describe what Solaris even is, beyond alien and intelligent[2]. And yet there’s something undeniably synaptic about all those writhing flux lines, something that conveys intelligence without the need for exposition. We see the lights move as Kelvin dreams, we watch those bright filigreed tendrils make connections and forge luminous pathways, and somehow we know that Solaris is watching, and taking notes. It’s a brilliant bit of visual shorthand.

Mare Soderburgh.

Mare Soderburgh.

Soderbergh trusts us to connect the dots. That’s the difference. Both films, for example, thumbnail human anthropocentrism with an elegant observation from Lem’s novel: “We don’t need other worlds. We need mirrors.” But while Tarkovsky buries that gem in an extended framing debate between characters, Soderbergh presents it almost in isolation: a prerecorded snippet from a dead man, playing in the background.

And yet for all the frugality with which he doles out his data points, Soderbergh does offer up something that Tarkovsky denied us: a few moments of something that might pass as actual honest-to-God contact (assuming it’s not just another troubled dream— although can there even be mere dreams when Solaris is walking through your brain?). Kelvin awakens to find his dead friend sitting at his side, eyes glinting from deep within a featureless silhouette. “What does it want?” Kelvin asks the apparition, and I can’t help hearing does it turn into do you in my head. “Why does Solaris have to want something?” says the man-shaped thing in the darkness. “If you keep thinking there’s a solution, you’ll die here. There are no answers. Only choices.”

That’s Lem’s thesis in a nutshell, right there. If anything like those lines were ever spoken in Tarkovsky’s movie, I missed them in all the sound and fury.

There is also a profoundly human element to Soderbergh’s thought experiment that’s missing from Tarkovsky’s. It’s a bit paradoxical. Both movies tell the same story, draw their plots and characters from the same well. If words and emotions are the conduits through which relationships occur, you’d expect to find the strongest human interactions in the movie with the most verbiage, the loudest histrionics— not in George Clooney’s minimalist performance, which has been described as “wooden”. But Clooney’s Kelvin is not a man without emotion; he’s a man whose emotions would overwhelm him if he ever let them out. He doesn’t exposit about his backstory (he doesn’t have to— the movie does, through a series of flashbacks) but you can see it there in the eyes, in the tremor in his voice. As the final curtain falls, the sight of Kelvin in his kitchen— performing the same rote actions that occupied him at the start of the film— evokes the scene in 2001 where space-suited astronauts touch the unburied monolith in the same tentative way their ancestors did, four million years before.

Soderbergh’s subtext is more disturbing, though. Both echoes use repetition to convey a sense of stagnation— but while Kubrick was suggesting that Humanity, for all its artifice, hasn’t really changed, Soderbergh’s Kelvin doesn’t even exist by the end of his movie. What we’re seeing is another simulacrum. And the tragedy is not that this isn’t the real Kelvin, but that the real Kelvin had so thoroughly suppressed his own humanity that it doesn’t really matter that he’s been replaced. Solaris plays with itself, endlessly running its humanoid puppets through the same routines. Maybe it puts them through those paces in service of some profound alien insight; maybe it’s just mindlessly re-enacting the obsessions and rituals that shone brightest in human minds when it was listening in. It’s Lem’s thesis of cosmic futility made intimate, humane, and even more tragic. In contrast, Tarkovsky’s decision to close the same loop using tacked-on daddy issues— invented completely independent of the novel— feels contrived and empty.

There is a double irony in the way these movies were put together. Tarkovsky built his thought experiment in the mold of 2001, a philosophical investigation in which human characters are mere chess pieces to be moved in service of a greater agenda; yet his dialog-heavy approach is the very antithesis of Kubrick’s largely-silent masterpiece. Soderbergh, in contrast, layered a deeply human story onto Lem’s intellectual thesis and made me feel for his characters— yet paradoxically, he drew me in with the same minimalist tools that Kubrick used to put us at a distance.

Both directors created thoughtful, engaging experiments out of Lem’s canonical work. But Soderbergh made me care about the rats as well as marvel at the maze in which they found themselves. That’s a trick even Kubrick didn’t manage, and it’s one I’d love to learn how to do myself someday.

Perhaps that’s the biggest reason I prefer Soderberg’s vision: it gives me something to aspire to. It’s not just a better movie than Tarkovsky’s. Ignored, panned, commercially unsuccessful, I believe that— in a very real way— it’s a better movie even than 2001.

How astonishing, to find myself admitting that.

solarishelmet


 

[1] It’s not just Tarkovsky. Both he and Soderbergh owe almost as much to Stanley as to Stanislaw, from the look and pacing of their films right down to the atonal, Ligeti-like soundtracks that back up those images.

[2] I thought they might, at one point. The simulacrum of Kelvin’s wife looks out the viewport and exclaims “What is that?”— to which Kelvin replies “Solaris”, setting the scene for a bit of helpful exposition. But Rheya only nods— “Oh my God, yes…”— and the moment passes. I suspect Soderbergh may have done that just to yank the chains of viewers who wanted it all spelled out…

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday February 13 2015at 10:02 am , filed under ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

30 Responses to “No Answers. Only Choices.”

  1. Yes! I have been arguing this for years (but not as cleanly thought out) and am mostly greeted with eyerolls. Thank you for this, made my day.

    I agree it is a shame that Clooney’s performance was so reviled, but as far as performances in that film with I was even more impressed by Natascha McElhone. Playing an Alien Simulacrum based off of a mans memories of his chronically depressed wife who committed suicide is a lot to wrap ones head around as an actor, the fact that she managed to make her confusion at her situation and route emotionalism feel so immediate and yet alien simultaneously was a pretty neat feat.

  2. Thank you for this analysis! I nearly 100% agree with you.

  3. Saw the Tarkokvsky version years ago, very faint memories of it. The scene where he traps the construct and it goes berserk on the other side of the door is my only clear memory. Downloading the Soderberg version now, will give it a go.

  4. I haven’t seen the Tarkovsky in years, but I was a huge fan of it. When I sat down to watch the Soderbergh after all the bad reviews I wondered if I was watching the wrong film, because I thought it was brilliant, and I think you’ve expressed a lot of the reasons for that very well. The images of the synaptic lightning were beautiful and sinister and Clooney was great. Love the soundtrack, too.

  5. Great review! I’ve never watched Tarkovski’s movie, by I remember liking Soderbergh’s very much although it left out all that awesome philosophizing that I had so admired in Lem’s novel. I still don’t understand all the hating for this movie.

  6. Absolutely – I have never understood why Soderbergh’s version was so reviled (speaking as a fan of Tarkovsky’s version also), and I thought both Clooney and McElhone were terrific in it.

    I disagree with you slightly on the ending, though, which I thought was compassionate rather than tragic.

  7. Solaris (Soderbergh version) is one of my favorite movies. I love how the entity’s motivation are kept alien. The puppets were also interesting in how they were just as confused as everyone else, as if they had no clue where or what they originated from. Although, there’s one scene where Kevin’s wife is looking out of one of the ship’s portholes whispering out like she’s talking to Solaris. It wasn’t clear what she was saying to it, but it sounds like pleading. Odd.

  8. Great to see this — I love both the book and the Soderbergh film, a somber masterpiece. The final monologue is just perfect (pulling from IMDb):

    “Earth. Even the word sounded strange to me now…unfamiliar. How long had I been gone? How long had I been back? Did it matter? I tried to find the rhythm of the world where I used to live. I followed the current. I was silent, attentive, I made a conscious effort to smile, nod, stand, and perform the millions of gestures that constitute life on Earth. I studied these gestures until they became reflexes again. But I was haunted by the idea that I remembered her wrong, and somehow I was wrong about everything.”

    And Cliff Martinez’s score is magnficent, man.

  9. As a long time Lem fan, I rush to violent agreement, and I’m glad so many people acknowledge Cliff Martinez’s soundtrack.

  10. You just convinced me to reread the book and buy both films. Thanks.

  11. High five – been saying this for years. Soderbergh mastered the material, Tarkovsky just churned about in it like a truck stuck in mud (one thing you don’t mention is how godawful LONG the earlier movie is – I recall watching it on TV late one night with my mother as a teenager, and both of us being woken gently by my father at about 1 am because we’d dozed off from lack of interest. There was still an hour to go).

    As to the damage the later movie took, I think Soderbergh and Clooney got crucified because they were up against the twinned icons of

    (a) Up-its-own-ass Po-Mo Critical Superiority Syndrome – the Tarkovsky piece is “difficult”, therefore significant and good. The later movie was eminently human and relatable, therefore unworthy.

    (b) Critical Conservatism and Canonical Bias – Old is Good, New (let alone, god forbid, Re-Made) is Bad. None of these young whippersnapper directors can hold a candle to the Greats, not a patch on the original, so forth. It’s a slightly dressed up version of the old there’s-no-decent-music-anymore whinge.

    I’d also agree Soderbergh’s Solaris is better than 2001 – but then so, to my mind, are rather a lot of films. Personally, I never saw what all the fuss was about with Kubrick.

  12. The Russian version was My Dinner with Andreivich {In Space Though Not Like You’d Notice}. This is why they compare you to Lem? Never got that from the discussions in Blindsight. In fact, it was more like you were holding up that mirror.

    I watched Soderbergh’s several times while in NY. And yet I’m not sure I agree with you or PhilRM about the ending but at the same time can’t describe what I think it is. There was something both creepy and touching, but feel like I still need to see it again to verbalize properly. Was there a religious implication?

  13. Ah Jesus––no, no, no! Soderbergh turns the most profound encounter with the alien in all of SF into a delivery vector for ape porn. Yeah, there has to be some human interest for the message to take; but turning a planet-sized brain into part of the mise-en-scène is like using HAL 9000 to solve Sudoku. Ponderous the Tarkovsky version may be, but then the whole point of the undertaking is to make you … ponder.

    Luckily for us, we’ve got Peter Watts to bitch-slap all that bourgeoise anthropomorphism out of the genre!

  14. I watched the two within 24 hours or so of each other, and liked both quite a lot.

    I really loved the barely contained desperation and suppressed depravity of the Soderbergh version (just what the fuck sort of terrible things is the doctor doing in her lab, with or to her “visitor”?), and thought the dead wife was by far the most potent character in the Russian version.

    My wife and I argued about the rightness or wrongness of the choices that produce the ending of the more recent movie (she didn’t make it through the Russian version, which is indeed godawful long), and what it ultimately meant.

    It’s odd how poorly the movie did. It’s pretty brilliantly done, inarguably gorgeous, and everyone in it gave a stellar performance.

    There’s also a great song about Solaris (imaginatively called “Solaris”), by the band Failure, one of several space-themed songs on the record “Fantastic Planet”.

  15. I am a big fan of Lem and a big fan of Tarkovsky but Solaris *pains* me.

    As you say, there are some lively moments in Tarkovsky’s version but I have always felt that he ripped out Lem’s ideas about man’s inability to see the world from an inhuman perspective and how this makes inter-species communication impossible and replaces it with a complete mess.

  16. Richard Morgan: Personally, I never saw what all the fuss was about with Kubrick.

    2001 was quite impressive for it’s day, from the technical standpoint.

    And as to fuss about Kubrick – he did make a number of excellent films. Dr. Strangelove, Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, Shining. And as far as SF films are concerned, 2001 is pretty good. Most SF flicks are utter crap that makes no sense, or fun but make no sense.

    It’s a slightly dressed up version of the old there’s-no-decent-music-anymore whinge.

    A better complaint would be that popular music is worse and more crude these days.

  17. @ Y

    Hmm, see that list of Kubrick’s work you just gave leaves me largely cold – “Full Metal Jacket” had something, fair enough. But “The Shining” was dreadful, both as a film in its own right and as an adaptation (interestingly King concurs with me on that one). “A Clockwork Orange” is okay, a workmanlike piece of cinema, but not outstanding – its impact comes largely from the source material, not the direction. Of course, at the time it was very shocking – these days not so much. “Dr Strangelove”, hmm, also very much of its time, I think, but pretty much unwatchable these days – like Flanders and Swann’s comedy, it’s not aged well.

    And while I’d agree that the general bar for SF movies is hideously low, that doesn’t make 2001 a particularly good one. I found it dull and distancing throughout. Which is, I think, a major feature of Kubrick’s work in general and probably why I don’t like it much. It can’t be a coincidence that the only one of his films I rate, FMJ, is also the only one in which I had any kind of feeling for the characters, i.e. the only one with anything approaching human affect.

    “A better complaint would be that popular music is worse and more crude these days.”

    Ugh – actually, that’s the same complaint, just tarted up. And it’s equally untrue; you’re just getting old!

  18. Strangely, I found the Soderbergh version felt *longer* than Tarkovsky’s. Because while Tarkovsky’s Solaris is slow (like all his films), it is slow for a purpose — to provide the viewer time to think. It’s just a totally different approach to filmmaking than we’re used to in the West.

    I guess that means I’m not really into Peter’s argument on this one. I remember being really excited about Soderbergh’s Solaris, and seeing it at a press preview … and then feeling bored as all hell before I was halfway through it. But perhaps I was too biased by Tarkovsky’s version.

  19. Curtis: I agree it is a shame that Clooney’s performance was so reviled, but as far as performances in that film with I was even more impressed by Natascha McElhone.

    Yeah, I should’ve tipped my hat to her too— hell, the whole cast was uniformly excellent as far as I’m concerned. I singled out Clooney because his seemed to be the performance everyone was dumping on.

    PhilRM: I disagree with you slightly on the ending, though, which I thought was compassionate rather than tragic.

    No reason it couldn’t be both— but to me, the instantly-healing cut finger made it apparent that there was no one left to feel compassion for.

    lynn deriso: It wasn’t clear what she was saying to it, but it sounds like pleading. Odd.

    Praying to your creator.

    Richard Morgan: Personally, I never saw what all the fuss was about with Kubrick.

    Oddly, I think FMJ is the one that got overrated. The only Kubrick that downright irritated me was Eyes Wide Shut, and like you I didn’t much like The Shining at all— but one thing you notice about Kubrick movies is that reviews tend to be really mixed upon release, and ten years later everyone looks back and agrees he was merely ahead of his time and Movie X was a classic after all. Don’t know if I buy that (I rewatched both The Shining and Strangelove recently and found my opinion unchanged on both scores), but it’s enough of a pattern that I’m recusing myself from shitting on any of the man’s movies until after a decade and at least one additional viewing.

    2001, though, I’ve seen more times than I can count. First time when I was eleven years old. And while I can certainly see why some people regard it as glacial and pointless (even I wouldn’t think any less of it if he’d trimmed the stargate sequence a bit more there at the end), I continue to regard it with awe.

    whoever: The Russian version was My Dinner with Andreivich {In Space Though Not Like You’d Notice}

    That is an awesome comparison.

    Of course, a lot of people regard “My Dinner with Andre” as a classic.

    Lodore: turning a planet-sized brain into part of the mise-en-scène is like using HAL 9000 to solve Sudoku.

    I don’t think that’s what it was about, though— the human story was a lens through which we could examine much larger issues. Don’t confuse the medium with the message (yeah, yeah, I know. Fuck McLuhan.)

    Of course, the PR guys didn’t help anything with the way they marketed the damn thing. When you explicitly pimp a Lem adaptation as some kind of chick flick, you’re just asking for trouble.

    PS. Oh, and thanks for forcing me to go and look up “mise-en-scène”, Lodore. That’s twenty seconds of my life I’ll never get back again.

  20. Yeah, I liked MDwA as well. It is in one sense a pull your head out of your hinder statement but at the same time a bit too quick to dismiss other cultures perhaps, considering what our “pragmatic” one has done to the oceans, etc.

    Really, I enjoyed the Russian version as well, just perhaps didn’t view it as something I’d be in a hurry to rewatch.

  21. Well argued. I felt the same way when I saw Soderbergh’s version in the theaters, and I was truly surprised at the negative consensus that developed after its release.

    Also worth noting: Cliff Martinez’s outstanding, haunting score. I think it’s as critical to the success of the whole as the cinematographic techniques you describe above, and I think it’s an equally impressive achievement in its thoughtfulness and subtlety. There must have been some great collaboration between Martinez and Soderbergh to achieve that synchronicity.

  22. Tarkovsky’s version is a bit slow and talky, but his aesthetic is at times sublime.

    Soderbergh’s version is lean, functional and works well as a SF short-story, but his aesthetic is frequently kitschy.

    Watts’ THE ISLAND (such an amazing alien creature) reminds me of Solaris the novel, and the two Solaris films, but it’s written in a pulpy, staccato style. Watts is highbrow SF written in lowbrow grunt speak.

    I think many contemporary modernists scoff at “profound” modernist works (Kubrick, Passolini, Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Godard etc were like the chieftains of cinematic modernism) and prefer smaller, trashy, postmodern works which house hidden veins of intelligence or which are unintentionally radical or off-beat in subtle ways. The contemporary modernist finds smarts in junk-art and is skeptical of the grand, totalizing works of yesteryear.

    Anyone seen Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon? It’s amazing, and even more alien than “2001”.

  23. Slightly off topic, but has anyone else read Hi Master’s Voice, which is Lem’s other novel about communication with the truly alien? It’s excellent.

  24. The thing about the Tarkovsky is that it’s the most compromised movie he ever made, having the apparatchiks setting him up to do the Russian 2001 and then breathing down his neck as if he was sending Yuri Gagarin into space.

    Which makes the parallels between the movies less a rip-off and more of a sarcastic comment, the way Shostakovitch used to toss in to soothe his conscience. Viewed like that, the long drives through the interstate are funny as well as beautiful; and the final scene a very ambiguous comment on the Star Child (you’ve found your god, and now you’re going to be trapped here inside your nostalghia for ever).

    But besides that, it’s worth noting that it’s not exactly a standalone movie, but rather part three in a seven volume series. Oh, and that the title sequence is worth almost anybody else’s movie all on its own.

  25. Richard Morgan: Hmm, see that list of Kubrick’s work you just gave leaves me largely cold – “Full Metal Jacket” had something, fair enough. But “The Shining” was dreadful, both as a film in its own right and as an adaptation (interestingly King concurs with me on that one).

    Hmm. The part that was most interesting, to me, that is, the first one, wouldn’t have been what it was without R.Lee Ermey. They invited him in to be a technical advisor, but he stole the part from the actor who was supposed to play him, by well, acting like a genuine DI with which he had ample experience. The cast was impressed, so Kubrick put him in.

    Richard Morgan: And while I’d agree that the general bar for SF movies is hideously low, that doesn’t make 2001 a particularly good one. I found it dull and distancing throughout.

    I rate is highly, as a SF film, on account of it – making some sense, having internal consistency and sticking to science (mostly). Also being non-offensive. Very few SF films pass these criteria.

    Though, now I’ve thought about it more I concur that Kubrick is somewhat overrated. None of his films (except Dr. Strangelove), while they’re enjoyable, really made an impression of me. But – I’m not really the most perceptive person. Quite possible half the stuff in most films just flies by me, like poetry.

    Can’t understand any of that at all. I can read the words but I’m unable to understand it beyond it’s literal meaning.

    Richard Morgan: Ugh – actually, that’s the same complaint, just tarted up. And it’s equally untrue; you’re just getting old!

    Yeah, I’m getting old, but I was never one to care about my peers or fitting in, as I was forced to attend public school where for about 6 years of my life I was mostly preoccupied with avoiding death by boredom, fighting with stupid bullies and not listening to daily jeers.

    So, I’ve never given much thought to my peers and what they liked thus I chose what music I’m going to listen to solely on the basis of what I liked and what sounded good.

    So, yeah, light classic music and some more recent stuff. That’s what I listened to in my teens. (IIRC) Later, I branched out a little. There’s good modern instrumental music, and also symphonic metal, and weird Japanese stuff.. etc.

    I think you are wrong. Say what you want about jazz, it does not inspire murderous thoughts in adults, unlike rap or hip-hop, two currently popular genres.

  26. “I think you are wrong. Say what you want about jazz, it does not inspire murderous thoughts in adults, unlike rap or hip-hop, two currently popular genres.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MY28d3DVEgM

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R39d63DItZA

    Stay young, man – there’s always good music, everywhere (there’s always shit too, but that’s just Sturgeon’s law. Gotta filter)

  27. PhilRM,

    Ack. His Master’s Voice.

  28. Another film rec, though the premise doesn’t meet the plausibility test is Another Earth. Saw it back in ’11 with the Twin Cities Writer’s Group. Interesting true story about cosmonaut Vladimir Illyushin that comes up as a dialog by the main character. Spoilers:

    https://davidlamlu.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/stories-the-russian-cosmonaut/

  29. Stay young, man – there’s always good music, everywhere (there’s always shit too, but that’s just Sturgeon’s law. Gotta filter)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MY28d3DVEgM

    That? Well, it’s rage-inducing, nor is it anti-social, but I think the basic problem is with the concept of rapping itself. It’s like the polish plait- no matter how you dress it up, still something repulsive.

  30. Avid reader, long time lurker, first time commenter. And I couldn’t let this one pass…

    I’m intrigued at the thought of rapping being an inherent repulsive concept. Why is that? Spoken words have their own rhythm. The human speaking voice has its own musicality.

    And it’s not as if the concept of speaking words over music is only confined to Hip Hop. Beat poetry and jazz went together. The Toasters of Reggae and Dub, in the culture I’m from, also mix spoken word with music. To my mind Chuck D has one of the greatest rapping voices ever; the depth, expressivity and power of it is unmatched by most peoples’ singing voices; that deep bass baritone whose tone says more than just the words he’s speaking and drives a narrative though and sometimes above the beats beneath it..

    And one could argue that this
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGaoXAwl9kw
    is one of rap’s earliest and greatest accomplishments.

    I once heard Rap described as Black American Urban Folk Music. Which covers it perfectly, I think. It speaks to the Black experience in all sorts of ways. And, like the Black experience, it’s often not nice at all. As such, writing the entire genre off completely, as is often done, strikes this Black, non American as, to put it diplomatically, problematic. For the most part I dislike the music of floppy haired white boys and girls with guitars, but I do not find it offensive; even though it seems to mostly be dealing with the kind of self indulgent, smug, middle class angst and rebellion of people who have never had, and never will have, a significant problem in their entire lives. It’s just not for me, and doesn’t have to be.

    Which gets me to the final point in this overlong rant; Rap, like all forms of musical expression, is merely what you do with it. Whether that’s crass or sublime is up to individual taste. But writing it off completely as existentially barren or repulsive is a mistake, I think.