• Svankmajer, Surrealism, and the Sex Pistols: John Cusack

    I don't remember when I first experienced the work of Czech artist and animator Jan Švankmajer. Maybe late-night arts programming on cable TV, or an obscure indie film fest. His trippy shorts are dark gems. What I love about being alive right now is that all of this stuff is so freely available, just floating around in the ether like recallable memories. You can just stumble right through his entire body of work online, with so little effort. It's so much easier to find good weird these days.

    Take his 1988 live-action/stop-motion animation retelling of Lewis Carrol's Alice, for instance. At the time of its release, the New York Times said his version "unearths the fears that animate dreams and nightmares." There's the crying scene: Alice's desperate clawing, her tears filling up the room, the mouse-man parting her long blonde hair to construct a little camp and a cooking fire right there on her scalp, a hearth on which to heat up his dinner.

    Then there's Meat Love, in which vein-sloppy steak slabs court each other and get it on, only to be flour-dipped and pan-fried by a Hand of God before climax. (more…)

  • The Beat of the Future: John Cusack, guestblogger

    Super Bowl XX. 1986. Bears vs. Patriots. New Orleans Superdome. One of the great joys of growing up in Chicago was watching Walter Payton turn a corner on nasty winter day.  The Chicago Bears were a wondrous team in '85/'86: full of great personalities, before any  originality in sports was reduced to the common rubble of brand, and a defensive line that rushed the quarterback like marauding beasts. They were Mongols.

    The Jumbotron was still relatively new technology at that time—at least it still felt new.  I remember the slack-jawed horror when Reagan's mammoth speaking head filled the giant screen, draped in the pulsing stars and stripes. We were celebrating the apex of liberty and the human spirit and lots of other shit, apparently. His comforting tone was deep with menace.  I was with Tim Robbins and we got a bad case of The Fear, even though we had prepared for just this situation.

    I remember witnessing the UP WITH PEOPLE halftime pageant terrified, with dilated pupils. It was a time when kids were ordered or bullied into attending high school pep rallies—with all that hateful homecoming gibberish.  

    As you can see in this video now, watching the performance was like diving into an ocean of bad fashion and forced smiles. Dr. Pepper dancing and Mom Jeans from shore to shore… pre-Prozac in motion…. military ballet… Mandatory cheers and quasi-religious cult patriotics… the glory of the empire. A choreographed tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. A celebration of diversity, unity, and fluorescent leggings.

    Meanwhile, Reagan was dumping all the mentally ill and vets out on the streets to die,  as a direct result of his policies.   (more…)