Monday, September 29, 2008

Caché (Michael Haneke 2005)

Caché is a film of surfaces and codes, so much that it’s almost like Haneke was filming the analytic parts of S/Z. It opens with a mystery -- who is sending mysterious tapes -- but ends with this unanswered. Along the way the film seems to be building a network of psychological observation, political commentary and formal innovation but really that’s just more sleight-of-hand.

In fact the very first shot is a cheat. It opens with a street and the outside of an apartment in what seems to be a photo but soon is revealed as a long, unmoving take. When the credits finish it’s revealed that this shot is actually what’s on the first videotape that’s been delivered but the catch is that what we viewers have been seeing is actually a film not video image. There are a few other spots in Caché where a cut to something that’s apparently an image of the film we are watching is then shown to be the videotape that the characters are watching. If Haneke had used actual video images he wouldn’t have been able to get away with this confusion.

But then this type of con is typical of the film, perhaps even referenced (unconsciously?) by the long shaggy-dog story one dinner guest tells. The mystery of the tapes is never solved. There are only two possible suspects, each of whom strongly denies it and neither of whom has any very clear motive. (Other people could have been the source of the tapes but since the cast is limited and the story’s focus narrow it’s unreasonable to go outside what’s plausible in the film.) The possibility of the wife having an affair with her boss is also raised but never resolved. What actually happened in the past is specified but left somewhat ambiguous. The characters are blank and mechanical in what is almost certainly a deliberate strategy of Haneke’s rather than sloppy writing.

This reaches a limit in the way the film presents itself as political. There’s a reference to a police massacre of Algerian protesters (an actual event) but this is pretty much a distraction. Based on everything else that’s presented to the viewer the ethnic identity of Majid or any possible political aspects are completely irrelevant - the actions that set all this in motion came from the jealousy of a very young boy. The results would have been the same if Majid had been a many-generationed Jacques. It’s possible that the quick police response to the believed kidnapping is the result of racism but since everything leading up to that is omitted we can’t make that assumption (and at least as an American viewer even if their reaction seems excessive I also don’t know how the French police actually act). But if Haneke is trying to tie Georges’ feeling of guilt to national feeling about Algiers then he’s being about as cynical as the mainstream films he attacks in interviews.

Caché ends with an ambiguous shot that’s generated much discussion. In a long take similar to the observational tapes we see the two sons unexpectedly and implausibly meet on the steps of the school, talk a bit then part amicably. It’s yet one more element that doesn’t seem like the piece to a puzzle as just something grabbed off the cutting room floor and tacked on for the end credits. Because “what does it mean” might be the point but is also just a waste of time. Any of us can come up with several meanings, none of which get us anywhere.

In fact this final shot is even more ambiguous than that. Look at the final three shots of the film. In the first Georges putters about his room getting ready to sleep and finally getting into bed. Next is an extreme long shot of Majid as a child being taken away to the orphanage. (Since shot one shows Georges closing curtains and darkening a room then we get shot two slightly framed like a proscenium the parallel to a film viewing is obvious even if probably unintended.) Now we’ve seen this angle of shot two before or at least one very close and it was earlier when Georges visited his childhood home. At that time it was very clearly presented as a dream sequence even if one based on what he claimed actually happened in later conversations. So does that mean that shot two at the end is a dream or a memory? It’s notable that we’re not shown who might be viewing this. And if shot two is a dream then what does that make the final, two-sons shot? It makes a kind of sense that Georges would dream about Majid and then about their sons but ultimately this isn’t a resolvable question.

I don’t know if hollow formalism is one of the seven types of ambiguity but in Caché there’s not much else. Funny Games was a giant lie, not just meaningless but actively dishonest, so at least compared to that Caché can be seen as a step forward.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

recent reading

David Hajdu The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America (2008) - Though basically about the comic book censorship controversy (well "assassination" might be more accurate) during the late 40s and early 50s, The Ten-Cent Plague really should have been a biography of Bill Gaines. That’s the person Hajdu focuses on most often and who seems to be the almost-secret protagonist. A Gaines bio would certainly have been far more welcome considering that the overall subject was handled much more effectively in Bradford Wright’s Comic Book Nation. (And who decided--incorrectly--that “comic book” in the title of Hajdu’s book should be hyphenated?) Hajdu has done the research but didn’t really synthesize it. We don’t need to know where anybody buys their business suits or the architectural style of a publisher headquarters, at least not when this comes across so blatantly as “color”. The connections Hajdu draws to the broader culture are obvious, perhaps even so much that they’re not completely reliable. Wright by contrast didn’t produce a more sustained and perceptive narrative because he’s a historian but that’s probably why he was better able to absorb and sort the material then fit it into broader patterns. (Though Comic Book Nation has some severe flaws - why is there still not a decent history of comic books?) After a while Hajdu’s names and dates all blur even for a reader like myself who’s familiar with this material. He did uncover interesting interviews with participants in book burning events that as far as I know have been rarely researched in this detail. But apart from emphasizing that many of the children involved didn’t really believe comic books were that bad (or at least when they’re speaking from several decades of hindsight) Hajdu doesn’t really get into what motivated the anti-comic people. Today this looks a little silly but that’s not the point. Even though Wertham wrote a shoddy book (I read most of it in high school but haven’t been able to find a copy since) and did seek some of the limelight I also find it impossible to believe that he wasn’t primarily motivated by a genuine desire to help teenagers.

Ted Morgan My Battle of Algiers: A Memoir (2005) - I’d read two other Morgan books. His biography of William Burroughs, Literary Outlaw, is absorbing but it would be hard to write something dull on that subject. By contrast, A Shovel of Stars dumped so many stories and events and people into its “making of the American West” (which in this case runs from Alabama to Hawaii) that it all blurs together. So it was a bit of a surprise to discover that Morgan is actually French (though the title of a later book suggests he’s now a naturalized American citizen). Calling this book “my” Battle of Algiers is exactly accurate but doesn’t reveal that his battle was pretty much on the sidelines. Morgan (at the time Sanche de Gramont) was a journalist for the French military paper and though he knew and spoke with many of the participants he seems to have witnessed almost no combat other than a couple of bombings. Which could still make for an interesting story except that he’s such a plodding writer. At times he is aiming for a novelist’s touch - for instance on p224 he quotes somebody as saying “’Okay, but make it fissa’ (‘quick’)” apparently oblivious that this bit of linguistic specificity comes across as completely arbritrary rather than insightful. Nothing was gained by not using “quick”. Don’t even ask about the severely misjudged and embarassing description of his sexual encounter with a married woman. It’s the same kind of mistake in not realizing this is irrelevant (and perhaps worse is so bland). But then most of his dialogue is pretty stilted even though we realize it’s being recollected after some 40+ years. The problem is that his memories seem a bit dubious. On p119 he describes discovering Marvel comics in the summer of 1939 which is dead wrong. Not only did Marvel proper not exist for another couple of decades but even its predecessor company Timely didn’t exist until that Fall (and since Morgan is discussing a summertime vacation there shouldn’t be any slipping of the timeline). That such an easily discovered error made it past both Morgan and the publisher’s fact checking doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in the material that’s not so familiar (at least for Americans) just as his overview of French-Algerian history quotes no sources. What the book does provide is some sense of life in the city during this time, that even though it was basically a war zone much continued as before, and that there’s more complexity to the war than a simple French vs Algerian distinction might make.

Kent Jones Physical Evidence: Selected Film Criticism (2007) - Jones is a programmer for the Film Society of Lincoln Center but more importantly a sharp and open-minded film critic. Most of his work appears in Film Comment and similar publications, removing him from the grind of weekly film coverage. Much of what’s collected in the book comes from the early 2000s and is, consequently or not, a tad uneven. His early appreciation of Assayas (pre-Irma Vep) is useful for historical purposes but feels tentative at this remove. A defense of John Carpenter is welcome but even for another fan like myself seems overstated. And even though I don’t share his high estimation of In the Mood for Love and A Perfect World I still found those pieces to be a bit unbending - shouldn’t he make them sound more interesting? Still, I have to quibble about something but otherwise how could anybody resist a book with an essay called “Allan Dwan’s Comedies”? Elsewhere Jones carefully engages with The Wind Will Carry Us and Magnolia then later exactly pegs the strengths and weaknesses of David Gordon Green. His piece on A History of Violence is the only one I’ve read (including the Dargis review that Lopate saw fit to include in that Library of America anthology) that really has anything to say on that film. Most pieces about it take what they consider an Important Theme (look it’s right there in the title!) and then unleash the hosannahs. Jones, though, points out how the cliched parts that others dimiss (the misty shots of Americana, for instance) actually work in Cronenberg’s patterns. Still, after all his focus on the director I wish he’d read the book to see how much came from there or is it too much to ask that anybody read a comic? Two closing pieces on Andrew Sarris and Manny Farber get at those writers' importance without merely repeating superlatives or saying how innovative they were (innovations alone are of little interest).

By the way, there’s a good interview with Jones at Senses of Cinema (and interviewer Steve Erickson is also worth checking out at though he also contributes to online boards).

Summer movies

Usually I more or less “keep up” with summer movies for about the first half and then due to work miss much of the second. Wrote about Iron Man and the new Indiana Jones earlier but here are more:

WALL-E (Andrew Stanton) - Pixar started its decline a few years ago (though if nothing else their tedious shorts have always showed that they were definitely falliable). The Incredibles turned out amusing but almost nothing else, was so unimaginative in fact that they had to bring in elements from spy films to fill out the running time. Cars was an almost total botch, an After School Special based on the bad idea of anthropomorphized cars. Or more exactly because the story was merely a human story with cars portraying people; no attempt was made to reimagine it (or for that matter ever explain why certain cars have specific genders). The end result looked just like a Pixar ripoff (though not one of those strange Brazillian ones that show up on YouTube). Ratatouille was back to amusing but was also a first for Pixar: their first film that clearly would have been improved by cel animation.

So WALL-E ends up being nearly a perfect children’s movie--cute, involving, worthwhile message--though without much of the resonance that powered the earlier Pixar. Structured almost as a diptych, the film first drifts through a nearly lifeless, brown-and-white wasteland then jumps into a kaleidoscopically colored wonderland that’s annoyingly lively. I can’t help but regret that the first section allowed some speech rather than being entirely dialogue-free just as I almost half wish the second part had employed complete gibberish rather than actual English (and honestly it would have been completely understandable). As satire it’s pretty obvious and more or less toothless, at least for most adults - kids might see it differently.

Get Smart (Peter Segal) - Didn’t expect much and I didn’t get much but to be fair the resulting spawn of Hollywood remake labs shambles around a bit better than it should have. It was smart or at least smart-ish or maybe just somewhat clever-esque to portray Max as something other than a complete bumbler who would have been fired immediately. He’s still implausible but not irrationally so and for a feature film that’s a worthwhile distinction allowing Get Smart to function reasonably effectively as both an actual spy film and a romantic comedy. (“Reasonably effectively” meaning that you’re not really squirming for the film to be over though afterwards you suspect that you probably should have been.) There is one moment, though, when Hathaway talks about her extensive plastic surgery (a necessary plot device to explain the age difference in the two co-stars - the days when Cary Grant could have a couple decades on his love interest seem over). Hathaway wistfully notes that before the surgery she used to resemble her mother. It’s a line that belongs in a much better movie even if it’s hard to imagine what kind of movie that could possibly be.

Wanted (Timur Bekmambetov) - Talk about low expectations: when it was revealed that the filmmakers had completely de-superheroed this it also sounded like they had removed its core concept. And to some degree they have. Along with ripping the story completely out of context, almost all the sex and a good bit of the violence in the original book are gone and the protagonist’s complete amorality has been adjusted to Hollywood standards (seriously nobody expected the scene where he rapes Britney Spears to survive into the movie).

But what turns out is easily my favorite movie of the summer. It’s a total goof-ball, half-stupid but completely energized action film that has so much CGI it’s partway to being animated. The bluntly stated theme of self-actualization is a bit silly (in the book this comes across as not entirely a good thing) but for Hollywood that’s like filming in color - nobody decides this, it just happens. That’s not the point anyway. The point is simple: flying cars, gunfights, Angelina’s naked backside, gunfights, conspiracies, gunfights, revenge and gunfights. Plus Morgan Freeman curses like nobody else.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Guillermo del Toro) - The first film seemed a bit uncertain about what to do with the books. 50s-style rubber monsters and stop-motion would have been a more accurate film equivalent of the books than CGI and despite a fairly limited cast they were never quite integrated properly. The sequel, though, works on its own terms, leaving the source while making its own way. Del Toro still seems to feel that he has to elevate it some and thus we get the blather regarding Hellboy’s confusion about exactly which side he’s on. It’s not that we already know what he will decide--after all the conventions of the time made it perfectly clear that theatre-goers would know Hamlet’s decision from the start of the play--but that it’s barely dramatized. The journey is the point, not the destination. (Oddly enough del Toro made sort of the opposite decision in his previous film Pan’s Labyrinth when he chickened out at the end to reveal the fantastic elements as mere fantasy, practically pushing the whole thing into irrelevance.) Instead the domestic squabbles and Abe’s blooming romance have more bite and life, forming the real core of the film (or at least a film with two cores - the other being the ever popular smash-monsters core). Del Toro’s knack for barely plausible gadgets and a densely crowded mise-en-scene rivals Gilliam’s and similarly needs to be kept under control.

Hancock (Peter Berg) - Kudos to the makers of the trailer who kept all hint of the film’s biggest surprise hidden, so much so that what seemed like Will Smith being completely miscast turns out to be almost the only possible choice. Too bad the people more officially in charge of the film itself wouldn’t really face up to the racial issues that are clearly intended but also carefully obscured, almost like we're supposed to be on an Easter egg hunt. The result is amusing for most of the running time but something that will fade from memory as soon as the credits start.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Stella Gibbons destroyed a genre

Who knew? Cold Comfort Farm is well worth reading despite/because/among this.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

There should be a word for encountering (reading, viewing, hearing) something that you’re positive you’ll like but, as it turns out, don’t. “Disappointment” seems too pedestrian so this should be some word with about four or five syllables, preferably German. That way I can claim this word is really the best expression and is untranslatable though in fact I haven’t the foggiest idea whether that’s really true (and in some sense it isn’t since everything is translatable – it might take several pages instead of just a word or two and be forever ambiguous to some degree but it can be translated).

And thus my encounter with Michael Chabon’s novel. It could have been glorious, wonderful: acknowledged literary value, about Golden Age comics, and from somebody who is a real fan rather than just finished reading up on the subject. And of course none of that matters. Chabon does, to paraphrase Terry Gilliam on J.K. Rowling, keep the pages turning and for a book this long that’s not a neglible achievement. But the whole thing is simplistic, somewhat ineptly structured and though there’s a big reach Chabon seems to have little idea of how far he really should be stretching. At times Chabon displays an impressively vivid style, for instance when Clay is a teenager and his mother passes by: “The natural fragrance of her body was a spicy, angry smell like that of fresh pencil shavings.” An unexpected comparison and altogether appropriate for a youthful artist.

Just look at a long section towards the start that is, like two or three other sections later, practically a self-contained short story. A youthful Kavalier is enlisted to help rescue the fabled golem of Prague before the Nazis find its decades-old hiding place. Despite a hint of fantasy (or magical realism if the other word makes you nervous) the golem--which does exist--never animates and there’s nothing non-realistic. Kavalier and his magician/escape artist mentor locate the golem and find a way to smuggle it out, along with Kavalier who leaves his family behind.

Now apart from providing a way out for Kavalier and a motivation for the early part of the novel (finding a way to rescue his family as well) there doesn’t seem to be much purpose to the golem section. My initial idea was that Chabon was trying to somehow tie the Jewish legend to comic superheroes and maybe he was but this is quite dubious. There are far more numerous and obvious sources for superheroes (Alan Moore explored some of this in The League of Extraordinary Gentlement) and thanks to the Meyrink novel and a silent film the golem had more or less entered pop culture anyway. Besides I can’t think of any early superhero that seems particularly golem-like except possibly the origin of Captain America (4F reject as the clay, a learned man turning him into a warrior to save their country/race).

As it turns out in the end there is indeed the slightest hint of magical realism after all. As the book is wrapping up, the golem who had earlier been left in other hands is suddenly and mysteriously delivered to Kavalier at Clay’s home. (The sender is never identified and I’m guessing was probably Chabon himself.) At this point Kavalier, the former Czech, has become completely Americanized and reminds us of a story that the golem could never last away from his native mud as well as that it was so easy to carry and light because of a belief about its soul (talk about the unbearable lightness of being). This time the golem’s box is heavy and when opened has no golem, only mud. Y’know why not just put in all caps KAVALIER IS NOW AN AMERICAN. As far as that goes it’s important that Kavalier was Czech because even though I think Chabon meant for his and Clay’s Jewish background to be important that’s really just superficial. Not that they need to seem like I.B. Singer characters wandering through but if the focus is about somebody assimilating then it’s probably a good idea for them to be noticably different at the end than at the start.

This lack of subtlety also shows up in the way Chabon handles the creative process. Kavalier had trained as an escape artist so when he and Clay create a superhero they decide on The Escapist. When Kavalier falls in love with a girl who lives in an attic room filled with moths he creates the Lunar Moth. Kavalier’s hatred of Nazis (and actually almost every emotion he seems to ever feel) is presented as being directly expressed in the comics; nothing Freudian for Mr. Chabon. A viewing of Citizen Kane prompts Kavalier & Clay to become self-conscious experimenters. (I’ll bet that most readers of Chabon’s description of the vividly innovative and wildly imaginative comics they produced think that it’s a bit unbelievable when actually Chabon is giving an almost exact description of Eisner’s post-War Spirit even including the Kane inspiration - all he changed was to move it forward about four years.)

Some of the details seem to escape Chabon as well. There’s a party part way through where Dali is a main attraction but Chabon saw fit to improbably rope in Raymond Scott and Joseph Cornell. For all I know this is all based on a real event but I doubt it. The mention of Scott rather than somebody like Virgil Thomson seems very much a trendy product of the time Chabon was writing. Cornell just feels wrong. The impression given by Deborah Solomon’s Cornell biography, the Dore Ashton book and other material is of Cornell as not remotely a party goer though he wasn’t exactly a hermit. Chabon’s party is overall too obviously managed for stage effect that it feels artificial in ways he probably didn’t intend.

And for somebody this up on his comics history too much of it seems tossed in. The names and the studios are there but to present the Golden Age as in fact a golden age is something that can’t really be supported by the actual comics. Far too much of it was written by rote and crudely drawn, sometimes with the energy of discovering a new art form but more often with the enthusiasm of a quick buck. Perhaps that’s one reason that Chabon’s prose renditions of comic stories are so much more lush and suggestive than the original was likely to have ever been. Towards the end Clay runs into a young, pre-Marvel Stan Lee and then a few pages later encounters a detective Leiber. It’s an odd moment because Leiber is Lee’s real name which Chabon surely knows. The in-joke becomes alienating, purposeless. Same thing with the footnotes that periodically grace the pages. Why are they there? The book isn’t written as faux scholarship (wonder if Borges could have done anything with early comics) and this too just seems like Chabon was being clever without really thinking it through.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Does Alan Moore like Hollywood?

Well, let's see what he says: "I find film in its modern form to be quite bullying. It spoon-feeds us, which has the effect of watering down our collective cultural imagination. It is as if we are freshly hatched birds looking up with our mouths open waiting for Hollywood to feed us more regurgitated worms. The 'Watchmen' film sounds like more regurgitated worms. I for one am sick of worms. Can't we get something else? Perhaps some takeout? Even Chinese worms would be a nice change."

Then again everybody talks trash about Hollywood but Moore backs it up: he refuses to accept money from any of the film projects.

The odd thing is that Moore himself is something of a recycler since nearly all his major work is based on pre-existing characters: Miracleman, Swamp Thing, Watchmen, From Hell, Lost Girls, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and even his vicious run on WildCATS. The modern American comic book business is built on recycling and branding, the alternative publishers almost as much as the mainstream. Moore mostly embraces that in the same way that, say, Shakespeare didn't struggle against the conventions of Elizabethan theatre.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Time with the Bad Ones

Within badfilm circles the names of Uwe Boll and Godfrey Ho aren’t exactly worshipped - Boll is considered too bad bad and Ho simply too esoteric - but they do generate talk. My first encounters with each:

Boll has made something of a career adapting videogames to films and I felt no reason to see any of them but In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale (2007) had such an odd cast - Burt Reynolds, Jason Statham, Leelee Sobieski, Ray Liotta, Ron Perlman, Claire Forlani and others. Too bad it’s simply dull-bad, running a bit over two hours and looking like a B-movie that just had lots of money poured into it which is more or less true. The invading monsters could just as well have been 50s rubber-suited guys, most of it looks like it was shot on about five sets and Burt Reynolds plays a quite improbable king. Statham glowers and at times seems like he learned English phonetically but he’s expected to carry the movie. Only Liotta does anything other than stumble through and even that’s because I can’t tell if he was about to break down in giggles or storm off the stage and fire his agent.

But was it an accurate adaptation of the game? A question I can’t answer, having only played the demo but at least it seemed to have the initial farm setup and a bridge encounter from the original.

Godfrey Ho is another type of filmmaker altogether. He’s often called Hong Kong’s Ed Wood but then some people can’t help but compare any inept filmmaker to Wood. During the 1980s and some before and after, Ho released dozens and dozens of more or less martial arts films usually with “ninja” in the title and usually constructed by splicing together chunks of different movies (including some unfinished ones he apparently bought). It’s impossible to count how many because so there are numerous retitlings, re-edits and pseudonyms but the wonderful obsessives at Cinemageddon have counted 153 so far. That’s a good ballpark figure considering that they’re likely to have missed some and that the 153 most likely includes a few duplicates.

Diamond Ninja Force (1986?) seems to be representative based on descriptions I’ve read. Ho took a film about a family moving into a suburban house that’s haunted and edited new footage featuring American actor Richard Harrison into and around the original (which as far as I can tell nobody has identified). The result is now a story about gangsters who want some land and try to scare the woman who holds the deed into signing over the rights. It’s dumb but makes as much sense as many current Hollywood blockbusters. But where Ho earns his fans is that it all falls apart in the details. The different footage doesn’t match at all, especially one scene where Harrison and the original woman are intercut to appear as if they’re having a conversation. The gangster story disappears for long stretches, there isn’t the slightest attempt made to explain how they could have pulled off floating transparent women, the fight scenes are remarkably clumsy and some of the dialogue sounds like it went through several languages before reaching English. One oddity is that there appears to be an alternate version with a Sho Kosugi scene added at the start -- most people considered this something of a legend but I heard from somebody who actually saw that one (on an 80s VHS).

Diamond Ninja Force is really not as entertaining or just odd as anything from Wood (or Larry Buchanan or Andy Milligan or whoever). What I really wonder about is the kind of video distribution channels that would accept something like this or the numerous other cut-and-paste jobs Ho did. Was the video market that desperate for product? I’ve heard interesting things about Catman in Lethal Track which will be my next and quite likely last Ho film.

Waiting for The Fall

For a few weeks I've been trying to decide whether to order Dave Simpson's The Fallen: Searching for the Missing Members of The Fall from the UK or wait to see if some enterprising Yank outfit decides to publish it here. Well, that's a bit overstating it since I'm really not going to order it from the Olde Countrie but just toss around the idea because it would be cool to do so.

A recent post on the Guardian's music blog almost convinces me otherwise. Really how could anybody resist "The Fallen is a salutary tale in how not to go about being a rock star, being an author, and finding a band to cherish. It is absolutely brilliant."

But then again how many people have resisted The Fall? One thing I like about them is that you get ten fans together and ask for their top three Fall albums and you'll probably get about 25 different titles. How many other bands would that be true? Usually there's a consensus about the top two or three and then a bit of room for an oddity or two so other bands' fans would give about five or six titles. But The Fall is nothing but oddities, a career of eccentricities that stands out even from the British cultivation of same. Smith is part madman like Abiezer Coppe and part obsessive like Henry Green or Ivy Compton-Burnett turning out basically the same novel for years. A perfect combination for cultists who will find plenty to get lost among, nothing too unpredictable and also just too strange for "the masses".

Friday, September 5, 2008

Existential Garfield

It's probably as much an indicator of how much "existential" has been absorbed into pop culture that the Garfield Minus Garfield site has chosen to label itself as such. Or more precisely it's "a site dedicated to removing Garfield from the Garfield comic strips in order to reveal the existential angst of a certain young Mr. Jon Arbuckle." In one sense it's an inspired goof along the lines of Nancy Poker (described here as 5-Card Nancy and with far more elaborate rules than when I played years ago) or the Dysfunctional Family Circus (the archives have diluted the idea so much that I'm not linking to it). And if you're so inclined you could reference more conventional "existential" sources--Beckett, Kierkegaard--but that's really stretching it. After all, Jon has yet to commit an unmotivated murder on the beach.