Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Great Expectations

2011. 136 minutes. Denmark. Directed by Lars von Trier. Watchdate: 1/10/2012
This is the finest cinematic demonstration of expectations creating reality that I have seen. For that alone I will extoll its virtues beyond (perhaps) what is fair. But there was something deeply disturbing but also exciting about that idea of expectations. It's like the dark edge of Charles Dickens updated for our time, but it's also sort of the anti-Secret (fuck Rhonda Byrne). 

Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is told not to make a scene before she actually makes a scene, Justine is told she is a workaholic before she actually does anything to indicate she's a workaholic, Justine is told she is not happy enough before she really does much of anything to justify that sort of expectation. Similarly, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is told to avoid going online to research her fears before we ever actually see her doing so and John (Kiefer Sutherland) - well in John's case he is such a swirling vortex of expectations and contradictions that it is hard to separate out a single moment that exemplifies his paradoxically simultaneous fulfillment and disappointment of expectations.

I must also commend the movie for its incredible refreshing (if also excruciating) sense of humor. I haven't laughed this hard in horror in a movie theater since probably…Errol Morris' Tabloid? I don't know but it really made me love the movie aside from all its other intriguing qualities. While Antichrist is more viscerally disturbing, this movie is far more psychologically and emotionally disturbing…especially because it insinuates darkness into your bloodstream without your normal defenses being activated. Of course, this might be because it's a white folks problem movie and I am a white folk. That I love it this much says a lot about my own identity probably. Best of the year? Well it depends on how you define year of course...

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Will Alexander Visits the Archive to Study Biology

in this text I've seen
through Eros and abstraction

Let's write a speech about
creativity in the back seat of
a peach sedan: it reads as if
each of the frames is
contaminated with unknown

pleasures' gaze. I read not as a
Anatolian Outlaw not as a
Japanese Diva or as
a brief afterimage tearing
under the skin but Our eyes

in talking pictures enzymes
capable of any viral trans
fusing cells of rupture by
which Our polymerase
replicates the data of books

written in search of mystery
on a page as time's shadow
given over to the grin, smile,
smirk to the perpetual swoon
of a kinetic antichrist and

secrets behind the door about
the mechanical age restored
by the fragility of life
with an authoré, her names:
Denis, Costa, Ellison

I am Our audience who
Okazaki has forgotten

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Happy Birthday, José Martí!

Today is the 159th Birthday of Cuban revolutionary hero and political theorist José Martí. As well as being equally contemptuous of both Spanish and U.S. imperialism, Martí possessed a badass moustache:
Even Frank Zappa can't compete with that 'stache. 
I will be keeping him and his facial hair in my thoughts all day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Top Ten Funniest Wikipedia Articles of All Time

Ariel Gardner asked me to contribute a top ten list to his top ten list blog. Go check it out, I promise you won't be disappointed. I compiled a list of the funniest Wikipedia articles that I have encountered. Number 4 on my list is Liver-Eating Johnson:
...[o]ne tale ascribed to Johnson[1][2] (while other sources ascribe it to Boone Helm[3]) was of being ambushed by a group of Blackfoot warriors in the dead of winter on a foray to visit his Flathead kin, a trip that would have been over five hundred miles (>800 Kilometers). The Blackfoot planned to sell him to the Crow, his mortal enemies, for a handsome price.[vague] He was stripped to the waist, tied with leather thongs and put in a teepee with an inexperienced guard outside. Johnson managed to chew through the straps, then knocked out his young guard with a punch to the face, took his knife and scalped him, then quickly cut off one of his legs.[dubious ] He made his escape into the woods, surviving by eating the Blackfoot's leg, until he reached the cabin of Del Que, his trapping partner, a journey of about two hundred miles...
I swear the Liver-Eating Johnson entry used to be even funnier and weirder but has been sanitized by the editors slavish devotion to objectivity. I can't find the earlier version that I read in the page history but if anyone finds a better version than the current one please drop me a line in comments.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Somebody is Waiting in the Hallway

Stop Making Sense
1984. 88 minutes. USA. Directed by Jonathan Demme. Watchdate: 1/26/2011
This is a movie about a giant suit that makes everyone happy and terrified. It's a giant suit that magnifies what is perhaps the craziest sense of rhythm in the Western World (whatever "the Western World" means nowadays). This movie is about sweat and white light and running and everything else people did in the 80s like wearing giant suits to make themselves seem bigger and more important than they actually were. It's great, it should be required viewing.

PS - David Byrne looks startlingly like Cillian Murphy in this movie.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Dearest Watson

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
2011. 129 minutes. USA/UK. Directed by Guy Ritchie. Watchdate: 12/26/2011.

Disclaimer: The best part about this movie is how gay it is. Usually you don't get a forbidden gay romance like this in a big Hollywood action blockbuster, and if you do it's usually about submerged homoeroticism rather than fine screwball gay romance complete with cross dressing and jealously of hetero relations which this movie has beyond its capacity to hold. I will say that on its behalf.

Robert Downey Jr. had a one-two punch a few years ago with two clever, fun blockbusters that made use of his considerable charisma in just the right way. Now comes time for their disappointing sequels. Just as with Iron Man 2, the second Sherlock Holmes outing has occasional moments or sequences that recapture or even flirt with exceeding the pleasures of the original. But for the most part, it just feels like a waste. The action scene innovations of the first movie that focused on Holmes' intellectualization of fighting and stuff like that show up again but not only have they lost their novelty, they aren't even as well thought out this time. Also, Sherlock Holmes for some reason  uses a vast number of disguises that strain at producing mirth but succeed easily at producing incredulity. The costume bits felt like they'd be more at home in Austin Powers or god forbid - Scooby Doo. Except for one scene at the beginning, Moriarity is largely wasted. It's a terrible shame to because there was a clever idea behind all of this that upped the stakes and did everything that a sequel is supposed to do. The idea of it being this precursor to world wars I was down with and there was a whole George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara vibe that I could have gone with fully had the execution been better. But the gay romance part of it worked very well.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Will I Remember To Tell You I Told You...

1973. 123 minutes. Italy. Directed by Federico Fellini. Watchdate: 10/5/2011.
I commence with the consideration of an effect. Of the myriad impressions of which the heart or the intellect or even the soul is susceptible, I feel confident in choosing Amarcord for its vivid effect in these matters. Can Amarcord best be praised for incident or tone – whether its ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone? Looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, all aid me in seeing Amarcord as a brilliant string of precious stones. 

PS - This movie contains the ORIGINAL masturbation contest! Eat your heart out, Seinfeld!

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Fabricationist Manifesto

Art is anything you do with your hands. For example, as a species, we have built so many dams that 50% of all river flow on Earth is regulated by human whims. We have transformed the planet. This is the most grandiose artistic project that has come to fruition in human history. If sculpture is an art, than sculpting the land is an art. If writing is an art, than rewriting the genetic code of the plant kingdom is an art. If painting is an art, than painting the view of our planet from space with a Great Wall is an art.

Art is anything you do with your hands. If fixing a motorcycle or performing heart surgery is not artistic, but fixing the narrative structure of a novel-in-progress or performing an avant-garde dance piece is artistic, we do not wish to have anything to do with that idea of art. If fixing a motorcycle or performing heart surgery cannot be artistic, but well-designed representations of such actions can be artistic, there is a serious imbalance of priorities that fetishizes the superstructure at the expense of the base.

An art is anything you do with your hands. An art is not capitalized. It is not elevated to an echelon of superiority. An art fails. An art fail. [tearfully] An art fall. [regaining composure] An art is a work. An art is work. An art work. An art works. A work is an art. A work is art. A work arts. A work's art. Work is art. Art is work. Art works. Work arts. Working is art. Arting is work. Hard working means hard art. Hard arting means hard work. Working is an art you do with your hands. A work is an art you do with your hands. An art is any work you do with your hands.

An art isn't just anything you do with your hands. Douglas Adams gets very worried about the idea of art. He thinks the idea of art kills creativity. Of course, he was a comedy writer so no one took him seriously. Which is how he liked it. And obviously, comedy is not an art. Who would think making people laugh is something artistic? An art is also anything you do with your voice.

The age of contradiction has not lost its luster. We are all disposable heroes of the same hypocrisy. The fabricationist project impels us to simultaneously channel both our most individualist and our most communitarian impulses into a new dialectic. That dialectic unites heretofore artificially separated crafts and disciplines. Previously, we organized society like a book, with all the soothingly ordered hierarchy that implies. Now, in order to survive, we must reorganize society to be like the internet, with all of the terrifying chaos that comes with such a disordered horizontalism. The age of contradiction has not lost its luster. To be converse, this conversation is not all bluster.

Friday, January 6, 2012

On Being Right

"I am increasingly convinced that the need to be right has nothing whatsoever to do with the love of truth, but to face the implications of this means accepting a painful inner emptiness; I am not now what I sense somehow I am meant to be. I do not know what I feel from the bottom of my heart, I need to know. The beginning of wisdom is not to flee from this condition or distract yourself from it. It is essential not to fill it up with answers that have not been earned. It is important to learn how to wait with that emptiness. It is the desire to fill up that emptiness which leads to political or religious fanaticism."
That's John Garvey, via Charlie Kaufman speaking at BAFTA.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Wild Street Kids of Telegraph Ave

We, in Berkeley, are fortunate to have Telegraph Avenue which bustles daily with culture and commerce. Telegraph's vibrancy is a tribute to our community and to our faith in Berkeley's spirit. Today we are concerned with vagrancy amongst the young and able-bodied on Telegraph Avenue along with its causes and its effects. This article will only scratch the surface of the concern. However, we believe that public awareness is a first step toward a remedy for any problem. It is in this spirit and with this faith that THE WILD STREET KIDS OF TELEGRAPH AVE was composed.

You’ve seen them on the street corner, you’ve passed them on the sidewalk, you’ve heard them ask for change. They disdain tests and grades and resumes, they care not for extracurriculars and externships and Panhellenic exchanges. They do not live by the daily shower or the hourly wage. They go their own way, and they seem somewhat proud of it.

But who are they? Who are these ageless children, these eternal youths dressed in the most fashionable of rags who strum guitars and hang out in doorways? What compelled them toward their alternative path? What do they want and who do they want it from? To find out your faithful reporter went out into the field to live for just a short while as they do – to learn their stories – to gain their insights.

“Do you like dogs?” she asked moments after her dog jumped on me and licked my face.

“I could take them or leave them,” I replied, and then realizing how bloodless and remote that made me sound, I quickly added, “I used to have a cocker spaniel.” I still have a cocker spaniel, it’s just that I abandoned him to a parent when I moved to Berkeley to acquire a college degree.

“He usually isn’t so friendly with strangers, he really likes you! My name’s Moon by the way.”

“I once a met a street kid in Portland who had a cocker spaniel. I didn’t spend enough time around him to know what to think of them.” As Moon’s friend said this – I later learned his name is Teddy – I realized that the questions I want to ask them were just a bunch of aggressive posturing. I could have just as easily told them repeatedly that I thought I was better then them.

To one side of me were a couple of veterans conducting business in hushed voices, to the other side were some kids who like to draw and play with dogs. What was I really doing here? Documenting the ways in which I think I’m superior to these people would not make me an investigative reporter or anthropologist; it would make me an asshole.

As pure as I wanted to believe my intentions were, I had really chosen to pick on these people because it bothers me that many of them beg for money on the street. Why does this bother me? Because their youth, their attitude and yes, their whiteness seemed to suggest that they had chosen poverty. And I would respect their asceticism if they did not suck around the collective asshole of capitalism hoping to collect its waste.

You can’t reject the establishment and act entitled to its scraps.

Or at least that’s what I thought. When a middle-aged couple gave Teddy a slice of pizza without being asked, or when a man asked to photograph Teddy as he drew a picture in his sketchbook, or when a UC Berkeley student propositioned Teddy for a drug that is known to be less harmful than the drug sold legally across the street at Raleigh’s, I started to see that Teddy didn’t feel entitled to much of anything. I wanted to expose the truth about Wild Street Kids, but the truth is they are already fully exposed.

Up the way a bit, outside Rasputin, a jug band outfit playing a folky bluegrass variant on the sort of gypsy punk made popular by Gogol Bordello drew the attention of many of the street kids around the block including Moon and another girl I met named Snowflake. As I watched them dance to the music and cheer on the nameless ragtag band that was apparently visiting Berkeley from up the coast, I knew I was letting my subject off the hook. Thankfully off the hook is where my subject belongs.