Monday, November 21, 2011

Is this fan art?

Despite working in a publishing house that exposes me to a lot of it, I'm not well-versed in independent art. The abstract, dramatic, sometimes erotic performance art that might be best explained to some of you as kin to the 'cow jumping over the moon' segment in Rent is not a field I feel capable of commenting on. However, while working on a book of performance art I came across something that looked very familiar...

This is "An Evening with Jabba The Hutt", a performance piece by Lali "Spartacus" Chatwynd. It was put on in a gallery in England in 2008. Its content is not entirely clear to me, but the idea was that the girls danced and Jabba told his side of the story.

This is an example of niche art, as well as the kind of performance that the artist may design specifically to be performed only once, in front of a live audience whose very liveness is essential. It's supposed to be underground, subversive, unique. Frieze Magazine calls Chatwynd's style a mix between "a disco at a science-fiction convention, and a primary school nativity play". "An Evening with Jabba" is a "re-imagining" of a Star Wars scene, and is " ritualistic" and "socially dynamic". Pretty lofty terms, huh? But come on, it's Star Wars characters, that's not nearly creative enough to be considered high art, right?...well, BBC News covered the piece when it was nominated for an art prize that "shows originality to be entirely possible".

No word on whether the Lucas empire of companies ever knew about this: it was probably over too fast and circulated in to narrow a circle for them to issue a cease and desist. As far as I am aware, it was also free.

But oh to be able to go back to 2008. I feel a bit late saying it now, but all this makes me think of the ways in which fan fiction could be considered as much an art form as anything else. Performers talk about lofty concepts of space and connectivity and myth to justify installations featuring things like a half-eaten block of chocolate or the artist's own hair.  Maybe I just don't understand. But it also make me feel like fan fiction could be justified in the same way if enough of us just tried. People like Henry Jenkins, Lev Grossman, and the Journal of Transformative Works team are working on that justification, on giving fanficcers an academic language to speak.

Sometimes modern art --"pieces" like a single red dot in the middle of a white canvas, or a show composed entirely of someone waxing a violin -- are called silly, indulgent, or pornographic by the people who are outside their niche audience. That sounds a lot like the usual reaction to fan fic too. Fan art is more accepted--but that's a post for another day. For now, let's talk about the evening with Jabba. Is it original? Does that even matter? Is it fan art?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Clone Wars: The Umbara Arc

The four episodes comprising "the Umbara arc" represent a step away from the episodic, chronologically disjointed tradition of The Clone Wars.  Duologies and trilogies have cropped up a lot in the third and fourth seasons, but this has been the longest consecutive sequence yet. What it makes up for in continuity it loses in scope: instead of featuring the Big Three main characters (Anakin, Ahsoka, and Obi-Wan), the Umbara episodes focus mostly on clones and a new Jedi character, General Krell. However, that doesn't mean we don't get some of the most insightful dialogue TCW has had in a while.

Because I have chosen to review all four episodes at once, I'm not going to focus so much on individual lines of script here. (I will focus on the final episode, as it's the one I've watched most recently.) However, the clone interactions were very well done-- with some jarring exceptions. One scene will contain some really interesting stuff and then become "I am not just a number!1".  The death in the third episode, "Plan of Dissent" seemed hackneyed and forced. It also reminded me of Halo: Reach-- but then, I had a prior emotional engagement with Spartans, and far be it from me to deny that somebody could have it with clones. There were a lot of great moments in that third episode for fangirls and everybody else too, with the clones talking to one another in the barracks or in the hangars, being themselves and discussing their roles in the war. The test flight scene reminded me favorably of Rogue Squadron and Corran Horn stories. "Plan of Dissent"was probably my favorite out of the four episodes. The clones bounced ideas about their purpose off one another while interacting nicely with their environment, making the inside of their base feel a lot more real and warm than the perpetually shadowy landscape outside.

If I had to list the Clone Wars episodes I wouldn't be entirely hesitant to show people who weren't fans to begin with, it would probably go like this:

1. Lair of Grievous
2. Assassins
3. Plan of Dissent
4. the Nightsisters arc

 That third one had a decent cliffhanger, too, with rebellious clones being threatened with court martial and execution. It made me wonder: does the Republic really use punishment like that? I don't know how a real military would deal with a team disobeying orders to go off and attack an enemy stronghold, but it seems like the Republic is edging toward the Empire.

The fourth episode had what may be one of my favorite moments in the series, the first time it elicited a fist-pumping "You had the guts to go there". After a firing squad scene that's supposed to be dramatic, and is, but has some of the most laughably overdone dialogue in the whole thing ("Wot! How could he?" in the face of one clone's imminent death),  we get what may be the darkest TCW has ever dared to go. I got the "no waaaay are they actually going to do this" feeling when clones started shooting at what were supposedly Umbarans in disguise. No waaaay are they going to have the clones confusing their own men for the enemy in the darkness and then killing them. But yes. It's gut-wrenchingly dark, and I don' know how the kid and/or fangirl audience reacted, but even I felt it. Owch. And Krell, who feels the Force and could have stopped the whole thing, didn't? Well, he was also prepared to feel the clone firing squad kill their own brothers/alternate selves...

Props, Clone Wars. I'm actually a little a way you meant for me to be, instead of just out of sadness at your quality.  The frantic run, the simple dialogue-- "They're clones!" worked really well here, and I could feel poor Rex's fear. This really shows what could happen when the clones can't tell each other apart, which is great and something I never have thought of through all of AotC and the EU. Kudos. It's cheapened a little bit that it was all just a setup instead of a Shatterpoint style horror of war, but just a little bit. In the end, though, it is Krell who's the enemy and the dark world the ally.

For the record, the single tear was not needed. Single tears are usually not needed.

The other half of the Umbara arc is General Krell. He's the Besalisk we saw in the trailer, an imposing, hulking figure who nevertheless resembles a Muppet a little bit in the dramatic closeups focusing on his underbite. He's mercilessly obnoxious to the clones, a great contrast to Anakin. Krell doesn't use the clones' names, he's rude, and he sends his troops into suicidal missions that could have been solved some other way. He's supposed to be hated, but I was kept from really engaging with the story by wondering what his deal was. How could a Jedi, supposed to be all about keeping Zen and peace in the galaxy, act like this? Yes they've become warriors in the Clone Wars era, but the others we've seen so far all have more composure to them. It bothered me that we didn't get backstory for Krell.

We do in the fourth episode, though. Interesting to hear that Krell has somehow bypassed the 'pall of the dark side' to see an accurate vision of the future. It's eerie how he sees himself as part of the Empire that he doesn't have a name for yet, and I love the line "there's only one side". (I am left wondering how Obi-Wan didn't pick up on this, and how long ago Krell reached his decision. But one thing TCW still hasn't done well is take the Force into account.) After Krell's speech, the larger war seems like a coda.

Krell manages to make fighting with two sabers look like...well, like he's not about to chop his own limbs off. We get some of the most violent TCW scenes ever in this finale.

Dogma becomes one of the most interesting clones in the series--his name and "blind loyalty" seem to imply a jab at religion, but his final decision is so completely consistent to his character that it doesn't seem like a statement. He's just really, really against treachery.  These four episodes were a mix of hokey dialogue and risky scenes that paid off. Looks like next week we get more daylight and more Ahsoka, one of which I have more hope for than the other. But for now, I'm thinking that the Umbara sequence might be a look up at a Clone Wars that is a bit better than the rest of this mediocre season.