Jeremy's Ramblings, Babblings, and Other Pretentious Bullshit.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
The thrill that I get from a really great album or a really great movie is one of the strongest emotional reactions I have to anything. I'm not sure if this is a good thing, considering that music and film are simply entertainment that rarely achieve the life-changing heights that they could aspire to get to. But entertainment is my passion, and so I unapologetically immerse myself in it, falling completely under its spell.

2003 and 2004 were really exciting years for me entertainment-wise, and two brave though wildly different men are responsible for it: Rufus Wainwright and Quentin Tarantino. Both made epic, ambitious works that they split into two parts, releasing the first half in 2003 and the second half in 2004.

Yesterday marked the release of Rufus Wainwright's "Want Two", the follow-up to "Want One". It was originally meant to be released last Spring, and to apologize, Wainwright included a full-length concert DVD with the album (well done, Mr. Wainwright, although the DVD should have kept in the witty banter that is a highlight of your shows).

Wainwright is one of my favorite musicians. His life has been filled with several different influences - from the folk sounds of his father Loudon Wainwright III to opera to world music - and he incorporates all of them into his music. With each album, his voice becomes more assured and his orchestrations become more lush. Like his contemporaries The White Stripes, Bjork and Radiohead, it almost seems as if he is going to explode at any moment from the epic heights his music achieves.

And "Want", parts one and two, is his greatest achievement. Like David Bowie's "Low", it was made in a time of reform from a lifestyle fraught with drug abuse and high sexual activity, and like "Low", it is a mess of emotions and musical styles.

When I say "mess", I do not mean it in a negative way. The messiness is what I love. While most albums follow a predictable path in which track one indicates what the rest of the album is going to sound like, Wainwright jerks you around, throwing a variety of melodies and themes in your way (or as he says, "to confuse the prey before killing it"). Perhaps his greatest asset is his ability to employ sadness and humor simultaneously in his songs (the extra time taken after the line "thinking about the art teacher", and yawning the line "Now can I finally sleep again?" being two examples).

From the modern sound of "The One You Love" (which I can see becoming a minor hit) to the beauty of "The Art Teacher" - which is told from the point of view of "a 16 year-old girl, i.e. me" - to the wit of "Gay Messiah" ("He will fall from a star/Studio 54/And appear on the sand/Of Fire Island's shore"), it - along with "Want One" - is one of the most moving, unpredictable and emotional musical experiences I have ever had.

On an equal though entirely different level, Quentin Tarantino made "Kill Bill", which is arguably one of the great cinematic achievements ever seen. The two-part, three-hour film centers around a character referred to simply as The Bride, who is gunned down on her wedding day, along with her fiancee and closest friends. After spending several years in a coma, she awakes, ready to take revenge on the band of assassins that wronged her. The destination of the movie is not very important (she says at the beginning of "Volume 2", in a flash forward, that she has killed everyone except Bill, who she is on her way to see). Instead, the real treat is watching the journey.

The decision to split the movie into two parts was not only profitable, but it made for one of the neatest tricks in recent cinema. "Volume 1" was a big, loud piece of entertainment, as Uma Thurman (in an career-best, award-worthy performance) slashed her way through countless foes to defeat two of the five assassins. It started out at 110% and never let up for the entire 90 minutes. It was brutally violent, consistently surprising and extremely funny.

Six months later, Tarantino invited audiences back into the theaters for the conclusion of his tale, and those who did were surprised to find "Volume 2" to be rather different. Without losing its fun or its edge, the second half of the story contained a level of depth not thought possible for such a project. We learned about the relationship between Bill and The Bride. We learn of one of the assassins' fall from grace, as he now lives in a trailer in Barstow. We learn of The Bride's previous martial arts training. And a surprise emerges that makes her quest for revenge all the more crucial.

Suddenly, this silly kung-fu movie became an experience that hit you emotionally as well as stylistically, and the climax, which most people expected to be of the "kick-ass" variety, turned out surprisingly moving.

The two volumes, when put together, is perhaps as good of a film as we are going to get for a long time. It is ingeniously plotted, flawlessly acted and directed by the hand of a true genius. It is also perhaps the greatest love letter to the movies that I have seen, as Tarantino simultaneously embraces and elevates the kung-fu genre to something approaching art.

Perhaps what I love the most about both "Want" and "Kill Bill" is that they are large, epic stories that were not condensed or toned down because the artists desperately needed to tell them. These - along with Kushner's play "Angels in America" (presented in two parts) and the television show "The Office" (presented over two short seasons) - have turned the two-part series into one of my favorite storytelling devices.

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