Geschrieben am 31. Dezember 2023 von für Allgemein, Highlights, Highlights 2023

Ulrich Baron, Jon Bassoff, Peter Blauner, William Boyle

Ulrich Baron: Looking Backward 2023 

„I heard the news today—oh, boy!“ Sah sie manchmal auch und sah dabei viele, die nicht mehr da sind. Shane MacGowan und Sinead O‘Connor etwa. Kann sie noch hören. 

Etwa beim gemeinsamen Auftritt von „Dubliners“ und „Pogues“ im Jahre 1987. MacGowan hatte zwar damals schon wenige Zähne, aber so wunderbar rote und abstehende Ohren, dass er damit jeden Weihnachtsmarkt und -Baum hätte zieren können. 

Oder die junge und Sinead O‘Connor, die im Studio mit ihrer kristallenen Stimme – begleitet von den „Chieftains“ –„The Foggy Dew“ aufnimmt.

“In some empty hall, my brother is still singing,” heisst es zu Beginn von Richard Powers‘ Roman „The Time of Our Singing“ über einen ermordeten Sänger, “his voice hasn’t dampened yet. Not altogether. The rooms still hold an impression, their walls dimpled with his sound, awaiting some future phonograph capable of replaying them.”

Stimmen sind da, in der Nacht – in der Luft, aber wie klang die Zeit, als es noch keine Tonkonserven gab? Die Isländische Krimiautorin Yrsa Sigurðardóttir schickt ihre Gestalten gerne in Gegenden und Situationen, in denen Handys und oft gleich der ganze Strom ausfallen. Sensorische Deprivation als ein Zurück zur Natur. In der Nacht, in Luft erklingen unheimliche, gespenstische Geräusche, die durch die heute übliche Dauerbeschallung übertönt werden. Dieses Übertönen ging mit der optischen Reizüberflutung einher, die begann, als die Bilder in den Lichtspieltheatern laufen lernten.

Der Mensch kenne die Mächte der Finsternis nicht mehr, schrieb dazu Ernst Jünger. Er bewege sich in einem Irrgarten aus Licht. Seltsamerweise aber soll der alte Jünger regelmäßig vor dem Fernseher gesessen haben, wie auch ein anderer notorischer Büchermensch namens Arno Schmidt.

Statt solchen schlechten Vorbildern zu folgen habe ich neben den unheimlichen Romanen der Sigurðardóttir auch wieder einmal die LA-Krimis von Michael Connelly doch vor allem die Erzählungen eines Klassikers der Gespenstergeschichte gelesen. Montague Rhodes James lebte von 1862 bis 1936, und der Titel seiner ersten Sammlung „Ghost Stories of an Antiquary“ charakterisiert ihn wie viele seiner Gestalten und Leser als Altertumsforscher.

Obwohl Automobile, Fahrräder und Schienenfahrzeuge in seinen Werken ähnlich bemerkenswerte Auftritte haben wie in den Cartoons des Wahl-Edwardianers Edward Gorey, leben die Gestalten des eingeborenen Viktorianers James doch in Zeiten, als man nach der Abenddämmerung noch Kerzen entzünden musste, wenn man sein Arbeits- oder Hotelzimmer betrat. Man konnte nicht einfach „Licht machen“, und die Geräusche, die von außen und aus den dunklen Winkeln im Innern erklangen, ließen sich oft weder eindeutig identifizieren noch übertönen. 

Connellys Harry Bosch hat Ähnliches beim Kampf in den Tunneln des Vietnamkrieges erlebt. Sigurðardóttirs Gestalten erleben es auf einem Geisterschiffen und Gespensterfjorden. Doch für die Helden von MR James war das alltägliche oder besser: allnächtliche Erfahrung. 

Ironischerweise spielen seine Gespenstergeschichten oft vor einem Hintergrund, der den Klischees vom Merry Old England vordergründig perfekt zu entsprechen scheint. Doch ein Wunderwerk der Technik – noch kein Fernseher, sondern ein Fernglas – macht dieses Bilderbuchbild in der Erzählung „A View From a Hill“ zunichte. 

Dem Protagonisten zeigt ein wohlwollender Gastgeber von einem Hügel herab eine klassische englische Landschaft mit Wäldern und Feldern, Dörfern und Kirchen, Farmen und seinem Gutshof. Doch beim Blick durch das merkwürdig schwere Fernglas erblickt der Gast manches, was aus der Sicht seines Gastgebers nicht mehr da ist und was die Idylle empfindlich stört. Er sieht einen längst verschwundenen Turm, und auf einem schon seit langem bewaldeten Hügel sieht er eine Richtstätte mit einigen viel genutzten Galgen. Sein Versuch, ihr auf seinem Fahrrad näher zu kommen, leitet den weniger erfreulichen Teil seines Besuchs ein, was sein robuster Gastgeber mit den Worten kommentiert: „You weren’t very far out when you thought you were in a graveyard. There must be a good few of them up there, Patten, don’t you think? They left ‚em there when they fell to bits, I fancy.“

Die alten Knochen können hier von der Last des Lebens noch nicht ruhen, doch für sie gibt es keinen Detective Harry Bosch, den ungelöste Fälle nicht loslassen. Im Kriminalroman aber wie in der Gespenstergeschichte gibt es einen unabweislichen Anspruch, wenn nicht auf Gerechtigkeit oder Buße so doch auf ein Wahrgenommenwerden. So müssen denn die Toten hier ihre Angelegenheit selbst in Hände nehmen, die sie längst nicht mehr haben. So erscheint hier, was nicht da ist.

Good night and joy be with you all…

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Jon Bassoff: More darkness, please

We have to be living in a dystopia, right? I mean, Israel/Palestine. Russia/Ukraine. Donald Trump. The Golden Bachelor. How much longer until I find out that I’m only a character in a madman’s opium-fueled fever dream? So maybe that’s why I FINALLY got around to reading a couple of the classic dystopian novels: 1984 and A Brave New World. Orwell and Huxley didn’t get it all right, but they got a LOT right. Huxley, that crazy son-of-a-bitch, all but predicted that by this time we’d be sitting in our fancy homes, high on fentanyl, scrolling through social media hour after hour after hour after hour. And Orwell…talk about chilling. War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength. If you haven’t read 1984, you must. It’s more terrifying than any slasher movie could ever be.

Keeping with the dystopian theme, I plowed through Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. My big takeaway: God is dead, and we have risen. And what will become of us in the future? The end of plagues, war, and famine? The conquering of death? The creation of the superhuman? Or will we, instead, be conquered by our own inventions? This book is fascinating, and Harari discusses BIG ideas in a way that even a low-IQ fellow like me understands. 

Music, music, music. I wish I could tell you that I discovered some new artist that transformed my world. But I’m still stuck in the music of my youth: Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk. But I did discover some weird as fuck music. You ever listened to John Zorn? Or Gerard Manset? Or how about Pauline Oliveros? Listen to her for a hour, and you’ll feel like you’re trapped in some static-filled desert landscape. 

And that’s the thing. I AM trapped in that static-filled desert landscape. So I seek out the weird for company. I mentioned the music. How about some movies? Just a few: Santa Sangre, My Winnipeg, Dogtooth, Holy Motors. Actually, come to think about it, Holy Motors is probably the weirdest movie I’ve ever seen. I loved it. I wish I could tell you what it’s about. Something to do with a man in a limousine being dropped off at various appointments, but for each appointment, he has to become a completely different person: an assassin, a beggar, a family man, etc. I got a kick out of it. And maybe it’s because I’m always trying on different masks and personas, trying to find the one that fits. 

And now onto 2024. More darkness, please. More weird. Thank God for art. My suffering would be too lonely without it.     

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Peter Blauner: Pulling off the trick

Mainstream movies have not interested me for a very long time. I’m too old for the Marvel Comics Universe and many Award Bait films of the last few years have been sententious slogs. 

But as 2023 draws to close, things are looking a little better. I haven’t seen MAESTRO, POOR THINGS, or DREAM SCENARIO yet. But I admired the ambition of OPPENHEIMER, liked Alexander Payne’s old-school THE HOLDOVERS, and very much welcomed Martin Scorsese’s KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON as a return to form.

The film that made the biggest impression on me, though, was AMERICAN FICTION. Jeffrey Wright, usually a very serious actor, stars as Thelonius “Monk” Ellison, the kind of semi-comedic role that Dustin Hoffman might have played a generation ago. Monk is a man out of time – a high-minded Black novelist, from an educated bourgeois background, who loses his teaching gig at a university because he dares to assign a Flannery O’Connor story with a racial epithet in its title that offends his woker-than-woke white students. 

“I can get over it!” he shouts, as they walk out. “Why can’t you?

Faced with financial calamity when he learns his new novel hasn’t sold and dealing with a mother who has Alzheimer’s, poor Monk finds himself in the Tenth Circle of Hell – a writers’ conference where hardly anyone comes to his panel. Instead he stumbles into a crowded room where a less-talented author, played by Issa Rae, is delighting a roomful of admirers by reading aloud in a jaw-dropping dialect from her bestseller We’s Lives in Da Ghetto. The look of envy, horror and despair on Monk’s face as he listened left me wincing with painful recognition and then howling with laughter.

The comedy starts to darken and deepen when Monk decides to play the game and write a crass potboiler of his own called My Pafology under the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh. Of course, it works – even as Monk in self-disgust tries to sabotage the project by renaming his book “FUCK.” The narrative, based on the novel Erasure by Percival Everett, is very knowing and funny about academia, publishing and the industry of hype. But it never quite curdles into the reflexive nasty satire it could have been. Wright and the director Cord Jefferson – who also wrote the screenplay – are just as acute and knowing about Monk’s self-delusions, while treating his painful attempts to reconcile with his estranged family with honesty and compassion. It’s a high-wire balancing act that could have ended in an unsightly splatter of caricature and sentimentality. But scene by scene, American Fiction stays smart and sure-footed, treating its characters unsparingly but humanely.

It’s very difficult to make a good movie about being a writer. The narratives usually find a way to be about something else. Or else they fail. Which is understandable. The process is so interior and opaque to other people that it’s almost impossible to render in a visual medium. But when American Fiction ended, I realized that Jefferson and his collaborators had somehow pulled off the trick. 

Stephen King on Peter Blauner’s 2023 novel, „Picture in the Sand“: “With the magic only the finest storytellers can summon, Blauner has conjured a tale where epic reality—the making of Cecil B. DeMilles The Ten Commandments—is woven into a story of adventure, suspense, mystery, love, sorrow, assassination plots, prison breaks, and deep appreciation for the movies. I found this impossible to put down. An authentic tour de force, the kind you lay aside to read again.” Peter Blauner is the author of Sunrise Highway and eight other novels, his most famous maybe Slow Motion RiotAbout his time with cop shows on TV here. Alf Mayer on his novel Proving Ground (Text in German). About his career in TV here: Real to Reel: From Slow Motion Riot to Law & Order: SVU. His website: peterblauner.com.

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William Boyle

Lost some of my biggest heroes this year: Shane MacGowan, Sinéad O’Connor, William Friedkin, Cormac McCarthy, Norman Lear, and Andre Braugher. Spent a lot of time revisiting their albums, books, movies, and shows. Want to lift a whiskey to them and their enduring work before moving on to my new favorites of the year.  

My Favorites of 2023:
Music: I wish I could say I knew Lisa O’Neill’s work before hearing her sing the Kirsty MacColl part on a rollicking post-communion “Fairytale of New York” at Shane MacGowan’s funeral, but I didn’t. Man, do I know it now. Her latest album, All of This is Chance, has quickly become my favorite of the year. Incredible, haunting, strange, gorgeous. “Old Note” is easily one of my favorite songs of the year. I also really loved Ryan Davis and the Roadhouse Band’s Dancing on the Edge, which hits like a lost David Berman record. 

Movies: Still have a ton to catch up on, but Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon is my number one. What an incredible performance by Lily Gladstone. De Niro and DiCaprio are at their skeezy best. Great supporting turns by Jesse Plemons, Brendan Fraser, John Lithgow, Tantoo Cardinal, Jason Isbell, William Belleau, Tatanka Means, Sturgill Simpson, and more. (Also loved the cameos at the end.) It hit different than I expected. Took me a second to fall into its rhythms. Sprawling, epic. The dread builds and builds. You can feel the corrosion, the lies and evil and greed eating away at time and humanity. Masterful work from Scorsese, Thelma Schoonmaker, Rodrigo Prieto, and Jack Fisk. One of the greatest—and most ambitious—late career films I’ve ever seen. Staggering.

Celine Song’s Past Lives is my other favorite movie of the year. Loved it even more than I could’ve anticipated. Breathtaking, perfect. Subtly funny. Burst into tears for some reason when Greta Lee’s Nora—attempting to explain where Montauk is—said, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Perfect use of John Cale’s “You Know More Than I Know.” Beautifully written and directed by Song. Stunning cinematography by Shabier Kirchner. A great New York movie, amongst other things. Lee and Teo Yoo are wonderful. And, man, I just love Magaro so much—he’s my favorite young actor by a long shot.

Television: Number one: A knockout final season of Reservation Dogs, the best TV show I’ve watched in a long time with one of the all-time great soundtracks. A close number two is the killer second season of The Bear, which also has a perfect soundtrack and features three of the best television episodes I’ve ever seen.

Books: Karen Joy Fowler’s Booth is absolutely brilliant. It came out in 2022, but I only just got around to it. Hits like prime era William Kennedy. Gorgeous writing, epic scope. Released in translation in the US and UK in 2023, Argentinian novelist Claudia Piñeiro’s A Little Luck is a haunting novel about parenthood, yearning, and regret—I couldn’t shake it. And Megan Abbott’s Beware the Woman is yet another thrilling masterpiece from a writer forever at the top of her game—a kind of gothic noir set in Nick Adams country.

William Boyle, author of Gravesend, The Lonely Witness, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, City of Margins and, most recently, Shoot the Moonlight Out. – Im Polar Verlag erschienen sind: Shoot the Moonlight Out, Brachland, Eine wahre Freundin, Einsame Zeugin und Gravesend.

                                                                           

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