Matthew Guerrieri has a new book out, The Black Archive: Horror of Fang Rock. The Black Archive is a project by Obverse Books to publish a detailed monograph on every episode of Doctor Who. It’s frankly amazing that this old kid’s show has prompted so much analysis over the years. For whatever it is worth, a direct line can be drawn from my reading of Who criticism — especially the anthology edited by Paul Cornell, Licence Denied: Rumblings from the Doctor Who Underground — to Do the Math and the music articles I publish elsewhere.
Guerrieri is a friend, and our friendship is partly based on liking the same kinds of semi-obscure things. To say that The Black Archive: Horror of Fang Rock is in my wheelhouse actually understates the matter. I felt like Matthew wrote this book just for me. I naturally give it a ringing endorsement!
From his blog entry:
If you have an interest in the show—or in the relative lighting power of oil and electricity, or the scavenging habits of coastal Scots, or the hidden 19th-century history of tentacular monsters, or Leslie Stephen’s anti-materialist philosophy, or the numerology of the tarot, or Guglielmo Marconi’s marital misadventures, or Odysseus consulting with the dead—you will hopefully find something interesting.
Let me add to this impressive list that three of my own favorite parts concerned Virginia Woolf, H. P. Lovecraft, and Peter Maxwell Davies.
I’m no Quentin Tarantino diehard. Like many people my age I was bowled over by Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. but then I thought he became kind of a bad influence on the culture. (At the least, he was way too easy to imitate. I quit watching Breaking Bad because I was turned off by the Tarantino-style beats of absurd comedy and absurd violence.) I didn’t connect with downbeat Jackie Brown or bloated Kill Bill and sort of wrote Tarantino off as something for other people.
However, the mysterious commercials for Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood were intriguing, and yeah, I loved it! I didn’t know anything about the plot in advance and was shocked and delighted. The film moves rather slowly by today’s standards — at times it is almost 1968-era automobile porn — so if you think it might suit, I recommend checking it out on the big screen.
Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood reminded me of two other movies I really enjoyed in recent years, Hail Caesar! by the Coen brothers and The Nice Guys by Shane Black. All are ironic elegies for “the way things used to be” and all give great actors huge parts to bite into. I must say Brad Pitt never made an impression on me before, but after Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood I’m ready to sign on the dotted line as a card-carrying member of the Brad Pitt fan club.
I have read criticism to effect that Tarantino makes his movies out of other movies. Everybody does this, of course — there are no new ideas, just new ways of putting together old ideas — but with Tarantino it is unusually explicit, and the director himself is willing to cite his sources chapter and verse. For my generation and social circle, Wes Anderson might have been even more important then Tarantino, and I experienced a full-body chill when I realized part of Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood was a straight-up homage to Anderson (the Italian sequence with voiceover).
Wes Anderson is hardly the only reference in Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood. It goes on and on. I’m not really a movie buff, but I suspect every scene is lifted from another source. It took 40 years for a Guerrieri to come along and unpack Horror of Fang Rock top to bottom, but I expect the full breakdown of the latest Tarantino to land sooner — like by Christmas, probably — and I’ll be eager to read all about it.