• "Fuzz and Pluck" is a beautifully absurd series that belongs in your comic collection

    If you happen to have the 2009 or 2018 issues of The Best American Comics lying around like some of us do, flip to any excerpts in there by Ted Stearn. Hopefully the appeal is instant. But for those who are limited to search results and the attached images above and below, let's dive a little deeper. Reading "Fuzz and Pluck" is a bit like being stuck in a semi-lucid dream where you suspect something is a bit off but the world carries on as it was, indifferent to your suspicions. Flip to just about any page and you'll find speech bubbles caressing character's heads, panels cascading into each other and a cantankerous plucked chicken (Pluck) bullying his best friend (Fuzz) into doing mostly horrible favors for him. More often than not, these errands result in grievous, though by the next chapter, reversible cartoonish bodily harm to Fuzz.

    While Fuzz and Pluck is Stearn's best-known and most highly acclaimed work, the "The Forgotten Dream of a Melancholy Chef" from Zero Zero is also worth taking a long look at. All of Stearn's work is lovingly rendered in pen and ink and utilizes an impressive academic application of hatching, crosshatching, and masterful linework. The whimsical design of the characters provide a really funny, offbeat contrast to the absurd and sometimes disturbing storylines.

    Unfortunately, Stearn passed away earlier this year. He left behind a great body of work that was much loved by Matt Groening, Chris Ware, Gary Panter, and hopefully you, too.

    If you have room in between your Daniel Clowes and Jim Woodring comics, consider adding Ted Stearn's Fuzz and Pluck to the shelf. The Moolah Tree is available from Fantagraphics here.

  • Dredging Up What's "Under the Silver Lake"

    Did you see this trailer for Under the Silver Lake about a year ago and think nothing of it? Lots of people did and dismissed it as a generic hipster-centric snoozefest. But a few interested people stuck around and read the checklist as a piece of comedy. Vinyl? Yes. Ridiculously nice apartments with one sole occupant? Yes. Struggling actors trying to make it in Hollywood? Yes. Pretentious bars? Yes. Violent Femmes? Sure, yes.

    As much as these elements might seem like they'd make for a bland 30-something-centric film involving thousand yard stares and brunch, director David Robert Mitchell (It Follows) lampoons mumblecore, Los Angeles and "the male gaze."

    The story in Silver Lake starts off innocently enough, wherein our protagonist Sam (Andrew Garfield) is caught staring at his sunbathing neighbor through binoculars and later notices signs of a neighborhood dog murderer. Perpetually unemployed (and unperturbed), Sam tracks down clues surrounding a disappearance and gets rapidly sucked into the lavish, oddball world of the Hollywood adjacent.

    Though the plot reads a bit like a noir, it's difficult to describe this world as an "underbelly," seeing as the parties and high teas Sam goes to on his mock-chivalric quest are neither clouded in cigar smoke nor shot through shuttered blinds. The real hook of this film comes in the barrage of red herrings, corner-of-your-eye subplots and ridiculous clues that sometimes pan out, sometimes don't, and sometimes turn out to be redundant at best. In addition to all that, the film's (for lack of a better word) meta narrative allows you to go on a hunt for clues that parallel Sam's adventure. What did the "E=EE" on that billboard mean? Why are the barbie dolls arranged like that? Why the focus on Janet Gaynor? Is Sam being followed? Am I being followed? What's going on?

    That this film got next to no distribution and poor critical reception when it first came out seems like a conspiracy in itself, especially considering that the film satirizes the Hollywood elite in such a biting way. But make no mistake, Under the Silver Lake deserves any and all renewed interest it receives. Give it a look, but get too close and you might fall in.

  • Oculus headset giving you a headache? Come see ye olde analog virtual reality in Los Angeles!

    Image: Forest Casey

    If you're hankering for an unusual outing in Los Angeles, look no further than the Velaslavasay Panorama. Home to the only panorama west of the Mississippi and the only one painted since the nineteenth century, the Velaslavasay is the art form's newest entry in its long and illustrious history. Panorama paintings were antiquity's preferred immersive medium, predating film, VR and a much cheaper sightseeing trip than hopping aboard a train.

    From the Velaslavasay Panorama website:

    The Velaslavasay Panorama panoramic exhibition encircles the spectator within a fully enveloping atmosphere; a vast painting of a continuous surrounding landscape, accompanied by sound stimulation and three-dimensional elements, affords the viewer an opportunity to experience a complete sensory phenomenon. Historically, the panorama was an immersive 360-degree painted environment, often including a three-dimensional faux terrain in the foreground of the painting to enhance the illusion of depth and simulated reality. An early ancestor of the motion picture, the captivated public would visit these paintings-in-the-round as an entertainment or novelty, much along the same lines as the cinema is seen today.

    Panoramas were widely accessible, extremely popular (and were lambasted for being so by art critics) and immensely entertaining. The decline in the proliferation of panoramas came about following the spread of cinema and became largely forgotten about, at least in the United States. Enter the Velaslavasay Panorama, first founded by Sara Velas in Hollywood and now located in West Adams. The Velaslavasay has both preserved and updated the medium, incorporating light and sound for a completely immersive panoramic experience.

    Come see the precursor to virtual reality and film in person! The current installation is a painting depicting the city of Shengjing, China from 1910-1930 featuring a miniature 3D terrain. The Velaslavasay Panorama also features a living garden, a theater and additional auxiliary exhibits.

    The layout of the Shengjing Panorama. Photo courtesy of Velaslavasay Panorama

    The Velaslavasay Panorama
    1122 West 24th Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90007

    On View Weekly
    11 am 'til 5pm

    Suggested donation of $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors

  • In the mood for a different kind of horror movie tonight? Go see Parasite

    If you're in the mood for an intelligent, unconventional thriller of sorts, get out on the town and treat yourself to Bong Joon-Ho's Parasite. Come for the promise of nail biting class tension, struggle and all-out war, but stay for the interpersonal relationships, architectural allegories and shocking scares that emerge over the course of Bong Joon Ho's latest film.

    The film is essentially about class relationships, yes, but unlike some recent (American) films that try to tackle the subject, the dynamic between the rich and poor isn't cut-and-dried black and white. Parasite doesn't just look at the poor as hopelessly depressed and the rich as cruel and greedy. The well-to-do in this film are moderately benevolent, living their own lives and oblivious to the destitute conditions of their hired help. Though we might cheer on the impoverished Kim family, they seem borderline sociopathic at times (most likely exacerbated by economic circumstances outside their control). We see the Kims pitted against a worse-off family and tensions escalate.

    That the Kims don't register that they have common interests with the other family isn't a flaw on their part. And that the Parks don't understand their role in maintaining the cycle of poverty isn't a damnable offense either. Parasite doesn't proclaim individuals to be the root cause of inequality. Instead, Bong focuses on the individual members of the families as a metaphor for the larger, systemic problems that heighten economic disparity and keep the working class pitted against itself in a continual cycle of poverty. It's a nuanced, oddly comedic piece, and though the third act seemed like it belonged to a different film at times, it works as a whole. I'd recommend Parasite whether you're a Halloween thrill seeker or a Marxist professor.

  • The Beach Bum should start a cult — and not just the midnight movie kind

    Director Harmony Korine's newest feature, The Beach Bum, seems the likely follow-up to his 2013 candy-coated crime caper Spring Breakers. Substitute your Vanessa Hudgens for Zac Efron and your James Franco for Matthew McConaughey and the casting decisions to break away from type seem borderline formulaic. Tonally, the films are similar, with wandering, boozy shots and dialogue seemingly lifted right from your acid casualty neighbor and color cues taken from him as well.

    Where Beach Bum diverges, however, is in substance. While leisure and pleasure seem the ultimate goal of both McConaughey's Moondog and the girls of Breakers, the method of getting there differs wildly. Crime sprees and social climbing are the girls' preferred method. Laying back and taking the world in one toke at a time is Moondog's. While heavy smoking and sleeping around might seem like a philosophically void path to enlightenment, it's really the only way there in an America who's ethos is to constantly tell you to want more, buy more, be more.

    Every Hollywood movie builds up this idea, from foundational kids' animation to aspirational teen drama to middle-aged career comedy and beyond. And what better way to respond to that constant pressure than to do and be nothing at all? Sure, Moondog has written fairly successful poetry and given the odd public speech, but the practice he preaches is the one he lives, a sort of contagious cosmic hedonism. Partying with him will leave you a happier, more content person, even if you happen to lose a foot, a husband or a few million dollars in the process. Even the worst possible outcome has some sort of humor to it, and it's really only a crisis if you give it credit, or at least so says Matthew McConaughey, on his character's philosophy.

    In keeping with Korine's original approach to filmmaking, each scene is distinct. His older films, Gummo and Julien Donkey Boy, cut from shock to shock and feature no obvious plotline, character development, or enlightening lesson. Beach Bum is the 21st-century update, still without a Hollywood screenwriter's favorite "character arc" or sunset ending. Now, Korine relocates his infamous shock treatment to the pleasure center— boobs and butts galore! — and happy endings are instead distributed throughout, right from the very first scene. Moondog wanders from situation to situation, cameo to cameo, and no matter how dire each set up appears, none of them impact him for much longer than his last toke did.

    It's easy to read Korine's recent works as plain ol' silly, and maybe it's over-analysis to argue that his shift in tone from 90s pessimism to this decade's indulgence is perfectly in tune with the changing times. But! Maybe it's not, and Korine's Beach Bum is at once both critical of the devil-may-care lifestyle and lauding it as an exemplar of the best way to live life. The world feels so serious these days and everything seems like it's falling apart, getting exponentially worse or going to end entirely.

    Of course, the world is serious and you should care, but rather than submit to the ultimate bummer, try your hand at pursuing nothing at all, and doing it happily, Moondog style. Preferably in a captain's hat, joint in hand and setting off a money-laden explosion for the tourists in the Florida Keys.