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Iron Man

It’s the story of a guy who thinks shit up.  That alone is a fabulous talent. 

Even more remarkable is his gift for finding ways to execute/realize the shit he thinks up.  The ability to think it     then translate it      into a thing that actually works —  that combination qualifies as a genuine superpower.  We venerate Edison, Tesla, Marconi and dozens of technological giants for their personification of those admirable abilities.  Then we make glorious biopics that retrospeculate about their private tribulations and holy victories that benefitted Mankind!

But wait, there’s more.  The first film is also the story of a guy who actually builds his ideas, mass-produces, and sells them, profitting fabulously from imaginary sweat transformed into socially-useful instruments, which happen to be mostly morally-bankrupt weapons of mass destruction.  And he’s the second generation manifestation of that superpower.  Now that’s downright Olympian-mythic!

Hold on, that ain’t all.

There’s nothing Tony Stark builds in the original movie that isn’t (eventually or immediately) used against him.  His WMDs get him kidnapped, severely wounded and enslaved to the agendas of total assholes.  I put it that way because I think it’s true of

  • the weapons he manufactures,
  • the commerical organization his genius preserves,
  • a handy-dandy paralyzer on which the story turns,
  • the profoundly-important complex, heartlike device that safeguards his life and liberates him from his oppressors, and
  • his playboy persona as a pampered moral defective who poisons all of his relationships by simply being his ill-reputed self.

In my initial review (in a blog I kept at the now-abandoned United Hollywood v2.0) I called the film Irony Man, because anything Tony Stark builds

can and will be used against him in the court of public opinion

It’s an odd kind of Miranda Warning that’s actually articulated in the film by his nemesis and partner, Obadiah Stane,

“Do you really think that just because you have an idea…it belongs to you”.  (No paraphrase.)

That single line impressed me with its applicability to the ongoing struggle between the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the Writers’ Guild of America because writers think shit up for their employers who execute and market it (arguably) to the eventual detriment of writers.  But now I’m just overloading my version of the story with debatable social significance.  I’ll get back to that a little later.

The single most remarkable aspect of the first Iron Man movie (and in my mind there are plenty) was the director’s explicit intention to reverse an industry practice that confined and limited the license of actors to enrich their superheroic characters with explicit personality (because computer graphics imaging is incredibly/prohibitively expensive).  So Favreau blew off the established wisdom and licensed Downey to embellish/invest his Tony Stark/Iron Man character with all of the considerable, eccentric, improvizational wit and whimsy the actor had at his command, while charging the army of CGI technicians to follow the lead of the actor.  That’s the opposite priority of every film that preceded it (and some released subsequently) Story>Actor>Special Effects & CGI Technicians.  I think The Favreau Priority worked like gangbusters to tell an excellent personal story that incorporated the current state-of-the-art of constantly-evolving motion-capture technology and push technicians (actors, crew and staff) to the fullest extent of their creative limits — like it’s s’pozed to.  Check the second commentary track for The Incredibles to hear the deeply inspiring and contagiously creative storytelling vitality that radiates explosively from technical coordinators. 

Writers, actors, staff, crew and technicians aren’t interchangable parts of the Hollywood fantasy machine.  They’re uniquely gifted people, who collaborate more effectively in some schemes than in others, and the material-interpretive faculties of a gifted actor can and should be of paramount importance even/especially in spectacular blockbuster, mechanized, technical extravaganzas that are always exactly stories of/by/for…people.  The actor is primarily an audience for the scripted material, and his/her performance in the film is user-generated content.  Culture animates people animate systems, not the other way around.

Now I’m reading criticism, in the first few days of its domestic release, that the second film isn’t as remarkable as the first one was.  Which sounds as though anything Jon Favreau built

can and will be used against him in the court of public opinion

And that’s just downright ironic.

One last thing, but it’s a big one. 

David Milch spoke to (screen)writers in more than one series of lectures I liked a lot.  Much of the stuff he said sounds profoundly mysterious and cryptic, but I got from him a sense that writers are simply instruments through which Culture speaks — and ultimately writes our history.  So I tend to look right past writers (as the ultimate arbiters of authorial intent) to Culture as the force that invents shit     for which writers get paid    and    about which the get very very crabby, when asked to specify what exactly they meant by this or that.

Joss Whedon named a planet Miranda in Serenity and spoke of it (subsequently in interviews) as a Shakespearean reference to The Tempest.  I prefer to interpret it as warning about the point at which good intentions lead to a forced choice between suicidal apathy and ultra-violence. 

You have the right to remain silent, and  I have the right to be wrong.

Whedon also said (for Creative Screenwriting DVD043) that the writer’s job involves a lot of isolation, imaginary sweat and technical skill, which ultimately leads

(with a lot of luck and undeterred determination)

to a script that says something useful ABOUT something important.  (So maybe Dollhouse referenced All About Eve [Addison/Adelle DeWitt] to gradually introduce and articulate the aims of Equality Now [against slavery, human trafficking, abduction, sexual infantilization] — thematic strains that lay barely-subliminally beneath the fascinating surfaces of the Firefly universe.)

http://www.equalitynow.org/english/index.html

The resistance I encountered in the virtual presence of amateur and professional photographers to (my off-the-wall) articulation of meaningful statements I’d discovered in the photographs they’d created surprised me for the six years I spent writing critiques of their work.  I concluded that the endeavor to tell them what I found in their work wasn’t worth the effort I invested, so I stopped doing it.   Those experiences shaped a defensive attitude I adopt when addressing “creatives” who aren’t creating while I’m talking at them (they’re usually responding like proprietors).

David Milch spoke words of encouragement to writers in his talks, but far more importantly, he spoke to the interpretive faculties of global audiences (people) to extract meaning from works of art quite in spite of the people (and the propietory interests) who made them or own them or market them. 

Once you’ve shown your creation to other people it’s a little or a lot less yours than it was before.  Though copyright may protect the creators’ expression of an idea, it doesn’t bear at all on alternative interpretations of the work.  And everyone who receives a story rewrites it to make it more personally useful.   That’s what stories are, and that’s what people do with them. 

SmartMoney builds theaters, museums, stadiums and galleries to capitalize on the interface (the work) where creative and interpretive intent meet.  That way, the housing of the work always makes money (and the house always wins) until artists and audiences exchange information more directly (outside the house) and the house abreacts against evaporating revenues and the greedy dreams of avarice.  And that’s why social media is antithetical to money-as-a-medium-of-exchange when the gold standard suddenly becomes attention.  Cheap low-resolution copies communicate creative and interpretive intent, so the house insists on 3D, HD, IMAX, 7.1 SurroundSound in THX to sway the court of public opinion toward the great value of copies controled by the house, and away from the underplayed value of meaningful stories.  So I’m glad I waited for Avatar to become available on VHS.  (A small joke.)  I’d probably have missed the story I thoroughly enjoyed if I’d seen it first in IMAX.

Now I’ll exercise my right to suicidal apathy and contemplate my right to be wrong. 

Then I’ll cruise the first film again before I go to see Iron Man II.

08 May 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Transnarrative Media

I’ve just spent an hour or two with Herbie Hancock:  Possibilities.  I selected the film from a load of badly-suggested movies that NetFlix figured I’d love (based on my enjoyment of Ken Burns’ Jazz, Ninja Scroll and No Direction Home — a really odd extrapolation).  I did love it, in spite of my expectations.   (Have I even seen Ninja Scroll?  I sure don’t remember liking it.)

I loved the beginning because a famous jazz musician confessed to himself that he was tired of making recordings for the familiar expectations of people who buy them; that making the same creative decisions he’d made countless times before was getting profoundly dull.  I think it wasn’t Yoko who killed The Beatles (’twas expectations of their fans).

So Herbie Hancock set out to bridge a lot of gaps in the usual scheme of expectable collaborations by playing individually with Christina Aguilera, Sting, Paul Simon, Annie Lenox, Brian Eno, John Mayer, Wayne Shorter, Joss Stone…because nothing much (apart from inertia) prevented him from doing so.

I loved the middle because stuff I never knew about Herbie Hancock’s interaction with Miles Davis got talked about; that Miles paid his collaborators to practice on stage, exploring unknown aspects of their personal and collective musicianship to see what together might be made of moments when remarkably competent players exceed their competencies in an environment of suspended judgmental resourcefulness, focused on the primacy of radical innovation.

And I loved the end that brought me back to something I read through earlier today:

http://bhorowitz.com/2010/04/28/why-we-prefer-founding-ceos/

which leads me to see a single narrative throughline crisscrossing the qualitative/categorical gaps that separate technology startups from feature films from musical collaborations from blogs, fiction and autobiographies: 

Media are environmental gaps between A and B.  Whether hostile to or facilitative of communication (between A and B) is only a matter of degree, but the ability/inability to connect competent practitioners of one discipline with another can be determined only by building bridges, recognizing story-commonalities on both sides of the gap and overcoming inertia.

I really like the comments that reply to the AndreessenHorowitz post because they emphasise the difference between hired-gun-CEOs and people whose self-assigned mission is to realize possibilities.  And I find it amazing how similar are the post’s itemized characteristics of exemplary founders and admirable artists:

  • Comprehensive knowledge
  • Moral authority
  • Total commitment to the long-term

I also got off on the music.  Check it out.  Stories are people too.

Eleven months later:

I just realized that I forgot to specify any meaning to the term Transnarrative Media.  It’s threads of meaningful and valuable sense that run through stories owned by competing entities, and reveal themselves clearly to those of us who regard storytellers as brands, even if some of us are clearly delusional.

01 May 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off on Transnarrative Media

Define A Point Day

Mr. Flynn had just asked his class of nine and ten year old Low Sixth-graders to define a point.  He was, in fact, reviewing class material recently imparted to us in his personal pilot project of a local 1961 experiment in epistemological optimism.  You see, Leonard Flynn sincerely believed that even little kids could benefit enormously from the careful introduction of advanced course material normally reserved for the vastly more mature intelligence of little kids in high school.  His superiors would require persuasion.

I really wanted to help my teacher prove to his educational hierarchy that our minds were NOT too immature to engage in the wonders he himself had lately found in the expansive mysteries of Euclidean geometry.

Yet, like every other kid in the room, I didn’t raise my hand, knowing with some certainty that he wouldn’t like the  answer I’d spent the past few days carefully considering.  So affably, encouragingly, smilingly, like a young Spencer Tracy with wavy red hair and wrinkly forehead, he simply asked us once again to define a point.  No answer.

The third attempt contained a subtle note of exasperated resignation, as though Leonard Flynn’s confidence in his rosy, private vision of education had been fundamentally shaken, drawing him slightly nearer to the darker view of brick-like students widely held by more senior officials in the educational establishment.

I raised my hand.  He nodded sharply at me with the very-faint implication of exasperated relief.

“A point is an indeterminate location at which no line exists.”

I was absolutely right!  He absolutely hated my answer, specifically because it helped none of the other kids in class remember the answer he’d given us a couple of days earlier. 

Except for the fact that it did.

His next request of the class, “Define a line.”, sent little hands aloft like at Berchtesgaden.  From that moment on through the end of the school year (which culminated in the combined grammar school assembly/Parent Teachers Association meeting in which we presented to excited younger kids and doting parents alike all the keen stuff we’d learned with nifty visual aids and memorized geometric axioms, that) our Sixth grade class amply justified Mr. Flynn’s faith in us kids and validated the glorious future for less-condescending education.  Except that somebody left it to Beaver.

I’ve celebrated Define A Point Day every year since 1961, quietly preferring my own joy to missionary work; a lesson from another, later, more-reluctant teacher.  It was probably  my super first day.

28 Apr 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Life

The first season opens on the release of the central character, an LA detective whose been brutalized in a maximum-security prison for twelve years.  Define anticlimax.  The quirky Rumplestiltskin thing that Damian Lewis achieves for all eleven episodes of this initial season works to varying degrees because of the presence of Damian Lewis and a remarkably interesting cast of collaborators surrounding the character he portrays.   Robin Wiegert, Adam Arkin, Michael Cudlitz, Garrett Dillahunt, Christina Hendricks and Titus Welliver (Deadwood, Band of Brothers, Firefly, NYPD Blue, and Adam fucking Arkin!).

The episodic (standalone) felony investigations gradually include fragments of information about the ancient homicide case that kept him locked away in prison until his persistent defense attorney, a very attractive woman, eventually secured and brought forward excuplatory DNA evidence that resulted in

  • his release from prison,
  • his acceptance of an undisclosed and enviable cash award for wrongful imprisonment, and
  • the restoration of his job as a metropolitan detective. 

It didn’t guarantee that his senior partner, Sarah Shahi (as Det. Dani Reese), would be one of the most beautiful women presently working in television.  That’s just a riveting and marketable coincidence.  It’s also a deeply contrived assortment of circumstances that kept my teeth on edge.

And there are peculiar technical stupidities that crop up from time to time, like;  at one point in an early episode the prime suspect and lone survivor of a car wreck is seated in an interrogation room wearing a butterfly bandage over his right eye, except when it’s over his left eye, as though somebody flipped the negative in coverage and nobody respected the audience enough to think it really mattered.  Ultimately, it doesn’t.

The premise and synopsis of this show depend upon the semi-plausible idea that Charlie Crews, the central character, has undergone a radical transformation within the walls of his imprisonment that lead him now to caper with the rigid corners of duly-authorized police procedure in ways that reflect dry humor and perfect knowledge of the wily criminal mentality, making him a kind of supercop with a really-interesting mind. 

The thing is that relatively few members of the audience are expected to be sufficiently steeped in genuine police procedure to spontaneously recognize Charlie’s deviations from SOP, so one or more of his onscreen compatriots is obliged to raise an eyebrow or otherwise object to the zany antics of a knife-slinging, Bentley-driving, zen-platitude spouting oddball LA homicide detective who lives in an unfurnished stately mansion on several acres of orange groves with hot’n hotter California babes constantly on tap.  Return with us now the the thrilling days yesteryear, as The Lone Ranger, and Magnum, P.I. ride again.  Because who the hell remembers?

Getting to know, really-really like, and root for Charlie Cruz and Dani Ruiz in the course of nine standalone episodes is probably supposed to prepare the viewer for the wealth of juicy revelations about the case that originally imprisoned him, arc-tic revelations that gradually begin to intrude on the graceful pace of his weekly felony solutions.  It doesn’t quite work because the unfolding of this involuted, damaged character takes too long to unfurl with drizzled-in elements of old evidence from twelve years earlier, while the hidden personality of the central character very rarely appears beneath the various layers of pseudo-comic subterfuge:  “I’m a good cop, a master-criminal, a man on a mission to solve an old crime and I’m also quite enlightened, except with regard to technical advancements like cellphones with cameras and the mysteries of Instant Messaging — stuff that happened while I was in stir..”.  Welcome to dis-appointment television, and farewell.

Note to folks who produce DVDs:  Five egos in a tiny viewing room is not a good idea.

21 Apr 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Comments Off on Life

Irking Christy Dena

Christy Dena and Jeff Gomez have long been powerful and effective advocates for innovation in the structure of entertainment.  Following her Tweets, I found reference to people like me, here: 

“For all the newcomers to the area who are excitedly exploring #transmedia – a big welcome! Go for it! I hope you create great projects!”   (about 9 hours ago via web)

-and

“It is just the people who have suddenly entered the area or have been quiet all these years and are suddenly public experts that irk me.”   (about 9 hours ago via web)

While I don’t mean to imply that Christy is chastising my latecomer’s remarks disparaging the recent success of transmedia advocates in gaining a measure of recognition from mainstream media , the shoe fits perfectly well.  I might as well wear it proudly. 

I’ve been dropping my goofy opinions around the internet for years, frequenting places like Henry Jenkins’ aca/fan blog, Lessig space, and six years of critiquing photgraphs over at photosig.com.  Most of the stuff I’ve contributed, logical and coherent or otherwise, persistently questions definitions and assumptions that signify the current tide of expert and popular opinion.

I’ve confused and irritated a lot of professional and amateur photographers by asking (for example) why so many of them repeal the law of gravity by cocking their cameras at peculiar angles in order to take “visually dynamic” pictures.  How can fetish photography be deeply personal when most of it dwells on fashion statements about mass-produced materials; latex, piercings, wigs…?  And a thousand other questions bent on connecting authorial intent to uncommunicative execution.  In six years, I spoke with lots of gearheads whose rationale for making photographs had surprisingly little to do with the people they photographed, the people who viewed their pictures, and nothing in particular to do with communication.  It was about costly hardware, advancing technology and gadgety stuff…leaving the heavy lifting of making sense of the image to the viewer because the photographer generally didn’t know or care how a given image was interpreted.  I cared.

A similar set of questions arise for me in cinema.  Early in the course of writing this blog I tried to express my confusion concerning the very long cinematic tradition of photographing and editing human interaction from multiple visual angles.  Robert Montgomery’s 1946 film, The Lady in the Lake is an fascinating, disciplined and failed attempt at bringing Raymond Chandler to the screen through the eyes of Philip Marlowe.  An enormous 1946 movie camera is only one technical part of the problem, the filmmaker chose to completely eliminate the streaming voice of Marlowe’s thought, which is Chandler’s cardinal virtue. 

If the holy grail of modern entertainment is “audience engagement”, maybe the traditional practices of multiple-camera/quick-cuts and counterintuitive point of view is an enormous impediment industry leaders need to dispense with.  The most effective means to communicate the difference (that these words don’t really convey) between a camera’s coherent point of view and what Hollywood’s been doing for 90 years is neatly expemplifed in With the Angels,  webseries I found at strike.tv:

http://www.strike.tv/search/with+the%20angels

At Lawrence Lessig’s blog, in mid-2008, I asked why the Highlander ethos (“there can be only one”) applies to the American presidency.  There and at Huffington Post (somewhere) and at Bill Moyers’ blog I asked if anyone know how large a percentage of my contribution to the Obama campaign was instantly consigned to the very deep pocket of the magnates of mainstream media — the same names that turned out empty pockets when the writers’ strike highlighted their conviction that the internet was strictly a promotional medium possessed of indeterminate commercial potential.

About 90%  of the questions I ask go unanswered.  No matter.  Irking Christy Dean is not one of my objectives.  Much higher on my to-do list is the task of simply understanding what the hell she and an easy dozen of highly-qualified experts have to say about transmedia. 

A few hours after Christy mentioned being irked, Nina Paley Tweeted a link to this:

http://www.techdirt.com/article.php?sid=20100305%2F1907278449&edition=entrepreneurs&utm_medium=bt.io-twitter&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_content=backtype-tweetcount&threaded=true&sp=1#comments

Mike Masnick’s article suggests, perhaps only to me, that the marriage of art and commerce, copywrite and professional recognition…is based in our collective (suspect) faith in avarice as the driving social force that fosters culture.  Hellboy 2, I learned from the commentary last night, was budgeted at $85million.  The superhero films with which it was slated to compete for the attention of audiences averaged $175million, each.  Maybe money matters.  Maybe insanely generous compensation packages for executives in failing industries and institutions makes some kind of sense.  And maybe nobody’s questioning nutty perceptions of business-as-usual.  I care…not about health insurance, my reputation as a media analyst (I spitshine other people’s desktop telephones for a living), and not about lots of adult concerns that bother other people.  For some unaccountable reason, I care about transmedia, creative freedom and the apprehension authorial intent, among other things.  And I’ll probably go on questioning authorities (who very rarely respond/participate/interact) anyway.

Christy Dena is certainly not specifically irked at me.  This blog is slightly less influential than a germ in a flea on the tail of a dog that wags for other reasons, but to anybody who happens to be listening, I think it’s time to dissolve the bonds in our thinking that elevate professionalism in art over artists’ more-amateur pursuits; choices not guided by money.  Something’s going to wag this dog differently. 

Let’s go to irk, if necessary.

19 Apr 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 15 Comments

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Barbaric satisfactions!

I’ve just reached the end of Episode 13, Kill Them All.  It isn’t called that coincidentally.  Episode 12 concludes with those fateful words, and the season of WAY over-the-top violence (with more than a little sex in it) and frequent paroxysms of difficult, sidelong, elevated speeches comes to an abrupt stop.  One pants in anticipation of the second season.

On the other hand, Andy Whitfield’s summation oration lights his face oddly from below.  The camera, which is also low, finds Berchtesgaden darknesses on Whitfield’s upper lip.  His rousing Bravheart oratory kinda stinks of Roman corpses that litter the central square of the villa and foul the bold and hopeful words with rivers of elite Roman blood.  St. Crispin’s Day, it ain’t.  Also, I don’t imagine Andy Whitfield was hired for his uncanny resemblance to Laurence Olivier’s acumen with the written word: 

“Dude doesn’t look totally ridiculous in a loincloth, so yeah.  Lex Barker, Jr.  Yeah, that’ll work.”

It worked fine!  Unfortunately, most of the BigBads that drove this season probably died.  Chief among these was the almost-credible John Hannah, as Batiatus (formerly Peter Ustinov as Bat Eye At Us), the ambitious, plotting, conscienceless weasle almost-absolutely-positively-certainly died.  Lucy Lawless as Lucretia definitely took Crixus’ blade in the foetus, but she was still twitching when credits rolled…so…?  And there absolutely was no shortage of deeply nasty people this season to get in the way of the run-up to the (to be continued) inevitable slave revolt, next season (and maybe a couple of seasons after that).  See, Spartacus (1960) wound up weaving his army up and down the length of the Italian peninsula as though they were lunch-hour customers at a preChristian Taco Bell.

However it gets where it’s surely going it’s going to be fascinating television. 

I came to the series solely because of Steve DeKnight, the creator, and nobody who spent years writing at Mutant Enemy takes bloodshedding lightly, so WAY over-the-top violence (the cardinal signature of this rendering of the story) won’t go gently into that good DeKnight.  Even utterly-righteous violence leads to dire consequences for heroes, or I’ve been misreading a lot of amazing writers for a long, long time.  (Entirely possible.)

And on yet another hand.  Henry Jenkins, today, called Twitter-attention to an interview here:

http://www.boingboing.net/2010/04/16/reducing-the-worlds.html

The discussion of his evolving perception of the myth of media violence is pretty cool.  I’d just like to add the notion that most media violence is packed with amplified bullshit, and that systemic violence tends to go largely unnoticed.  Systems that fail to meet the needs of the people (who subscribe to and support those systems) exhibit deeply embedded flaws in particularly interesting television shows like Breaking Bad, Deadwood (where we watch those infrastructural systems grow from nothing to institutions in the course of several months) and pretty much every show that David Simon’s ever touched.

It’s bound to be months before I tie into Treme, but the stuff I’ve read suggests that Hurricane Katrina wasn’t the problem that devastated New Orleans.  Criminal systemic failures did kill, displace, and brutalize people.  And the acts of violence visited on the inhabitants of that city will (if I’ve read the intent of the creative force behind the production correctly) show through even to the dimmest of us; acculturated to see criminal behavior as confined to certain strata of our society.  Guns and anonymous decisions made deep in the safety of corrupt institutionalized infrastructures don’t kill people, people do. Actually, bullshit kills people.

Systemic violence and technological innovations that reduce personal options are aspects of the same thing.  It’s not a popular subject, but needs considerable attention.   That’s why I wish Professor Jenkins had elaborated on his description of things that suck (the life out of people/culture) because many of them are directly attributable to systemic, bureaucratic, ideational quagmires; beta slop that needs field testing.  And there’s no better time to be a corrupt politican (or firmware developer) than the moment when the press provides less-credible criticism of our institutional systems than fictional drama.

Interesting that I’ve been watching television for 50 years and yet I’d never seen a castrated man crucified until Spartacus: Blood and Sand.  Sure, that’s an awful thing, but what’s even worse is the institutional repression that blunts the shock of violence people do to people.  In that context, media violence is far from mythic.  It amplifies the bonebreaking sound of a slayer’s punch (that never lands) and refuses to show the stump of a severed dick.  That’s downright bizarre.

“But what about the children?!” 

Just when a kid needs and deserves an honest clue in order to make informed choices about (you name it), some asshole farts that moronic question as a justification for bullshitting.  No wonder people who risk their lives to preserve our ways of life believe we can’t handle the truth.

I really liked John Hannah’s work in Rebus, and yet Ustinov played BatEyeAtUs more interestingly than Hannah’s BattyAtus.  The differences between these two recitations of the Spartacus story are numerous, but I think the essential differences are localized in Batiatus.  John plays him like a grasping, malicious, tolerated, minor Wall Street criminal.  Peter’s portrait (of Judas) bats-his-eyes-at and flatters Real Power.  Both portrayals present a man who goes-along-to-get-along.  John plays a tragic, rigid paranoid, Peter plays a flexible coward.

Given that historians and storytellers lie, each of us is obligated to play the role of Batiatus.  More decently.  What redeming quality resides in your Batiatus that punches through the web of lies and 41st Century agendas fashioned by future historians?  I wrote goofy sentences.  I’m obligated to do better.

17 Apr 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off on Spartacus: Blood and Sand

Time, Money and Attention

Each of us gathers and spends these three things differently.  Possibly uniquely.  And the weight/importance we percieve in our jobs, our fascinations, our stuff — varies from decade to decade just as it varies from person to person, creating recognizable patterns of similarity that make some of us nostalgic about StarWars, summer camp or band practice.  The measure is personal…satisfaction.

“The hours I spend with a cue in my hand are Golden.  Help you cultivate horse sense and a cool head and a keen eye…”  Attention, time and money…invested, squandered, earned, stolen…

The Producers Guild of America, this week, was the first professional entertainment organization yet to create an official designation recognizing the Transmedia Producer as a legitmate occupation.  You can look up the definition of the job, but by the time you get to it they’ll have changed it to more accurately reflect the objections of concerned industry workers who took exception the moment the announcement was made to fictional narrative stretched across at least three discrete media platforms, and yadada yadada, yawn.

  • Transmedia Producer – A Transmedia Narrative project or franchise must consist of three (or more) narrative storylines existing within the same fictional universe on any of the following platforms:  Film, Television, Short Film, Broadband, Publishing, Comics, Animation, Mobile, Special Venues, DVD/Blu-ray/CD-ROM, Narrative Commercial and Marketing rollouts, and other technologies that may or may not currently exist. These narrative extensions are NOT the same as repurposing material from one platform to be cut or repurposed to different platforms.

Money, time and attention are spent and gathered by each of us uniquely.  Controversy over the definition of “transmedia” will persist until a lot of money is made by people who weren’t much involved in the semantic squabble, people who managed to make something profoundly (valued and) lucrative —  which will garner the attention of the squabblers, who will spend lots of time, money and attention attempting to replicate the success of those who demonstrated something that worked while the squabbling continued ad nauseum.

The problem I see with this historic announcement is that it has focused attention on product, return-on-investment, and technique, while distracting people from thinking about who they’d love to work with, what they’d love to do together and how to love budgeting personal time, money and attention to design coherent experience that magnetizes their collective attention (and has the identical kind of effect on a global audience).  I can’t think of anything that motivates people more than the invitation to collaborate.  I’d rather spend time collaborating in the writers’ room than sit through the eventual movie that’s created.

Transmedia entertainment is mostly about people who invest time, money and attention pursuing what they want to do…on both sides of the camera, screen or creative/receptive process.  It isn’t concerned with the prioritized agendas of media executives, nor box office receipts, nor fads.  It’s the further adventures of culture; coherent, self-aware, aspiring initiative to make stuff happen within the limitations of the money, time and attention you have to do so.  Transmedia entertainment is all about you.

Thanks for your time and attention.  We validate, but don’t forget to tip.

This post was inspired by this one:

http://creativity-online.com/news/for-the-love-of-money/143113

10 Apr 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Lie to Me

I spent the past two evenings streaming the first season of this series via NetFlix, and valuing the experience.

The pilot episode introduces principle characters and simultaneously begs a little  for the suspension of audience skepticism as Tim Roth divines truth from the universe of facial expressions, mannerisms and body language of all things human, deducing implications and preventing ruinous consequences at superhuman speeds.

The first eleven episodes held my attention, although unexplained flaws in the superior inferential skills of the protagonist(s) tended toward redundancy in standalone episodes that linked together on the slender threads of recurrent behaviors exhibited by regular characters.  Episodes twelve and thirteen amply justified the tedium of slogging through familiar situations in episodes two through ten.  The promise of longform storytelling started paying off in Blinded and Sacrifice.  And my appetite for season two was expertly whetted by neatly set up callbacks to earlier episodes by the end of season one.

There is one bizarre inconsistency that centers on Agent Dupree. He’s a short, black FBI agent who swiftly becomes the boyfriend of Ms Tores, a regular high-secondary character.  Dupree makes recurrent appearances throughout the season, as another short, black FBI agent becomes a regular character.   I think the second guy wears mottonchops with moustache and goatee, but he’s practically indistinguishable from Dupree, who ends the season, hospitalized in a coma.

This show also tends to open segments with painfully blinding flashes of light that remind me of the interstitial transitions Angel (presumably) used to replicate  for the audience the experience of Cordelia’s agonizing visions.  It’s that class of unscrupulous manipulations that put me completely off LOST, initially: 

  • Auditory and visual f-bombs,
  • multiple-camera-angles that obfuscate,
  • didactic scores that signal viewer=puppet…

damned familiar devices need serious rethinking, just like the empty claims of aspiring to the “complete immersion” of the audience in the mise-en-scene.  That stuff is counterintuitive nonsense that degrades the bond of trust that must unite the storyteller with the audience in order to share the journey to the far end of the episode, season or run. 

Showrunners who depend on flash and boom to get a physiological start from an audience are like MBAs and CEOs who confuse short-term gains into honest profit.  It’s one of the surest earmarks of employees, surgery with cattleprod. 

A storyteller with a boss tends to become a meddle-manager of cattle.

08 Apr 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off on Lie to Me

Breaking Bad

A middle-aged, middle-class man is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.  The terrifyingly inconvenient prospect of his imminent death forces him to evaluate the utility of his resources in order to provide adequate wealth for the family that will survive him.  The over-qualified high school chemistry teacher knows that his health and life insurance aren’t up to the task of compensating for his inevitable loss as a bread winner, so he decides to break with his own personal tradition of law-abiding, civilized behavior by becomming a manufacturer of an illegal chemical, crystal meth.  The product he creates is uncommonly pure, distinctive and sought-after by the market, the market’s regulators, television critics and by fascinated audiences.  (I’m a member of that last group.)

The process of his evolution from loser to entrepreneur beautifully illustrates the story of capitalism, a contraband/unfashionable class of tale Grant McCracken laments here:

http://cultureby.com/2010/03/the-mystery-of-capitalism.html

The protagonist of Breaking Bad, Walter White, builds a superior mousetrap.  People want it.  The rapid introduction of Walter White into the complicated workings of fundamental capitalism make for fascinating television as he learns enough to survive the challenges of distribution, competition, personnel management, regulatory agencies…and loses his grip on his personal life while navigating through an increasingly complex tempest of lies, deceits and questionable/abominable ethical choices.  Not the least agonizing of these lessons is that Walter White’s wonderful product creates avid customers (partners, competition and colleagues) he can never ever trust.  That implication is the hallmark of insanely-intelligent storytelling; Vince Gilligan’s values demand a 300hour cruise, along with Milch, Whedon, Simon, Burns, Chase, Sorkin — oh, how I long to add Noxon to this archipelago of creative sphincters.

Maybe it’s possible to tell a fascinating story about an abstract economic idea like capitalism.  I don’t think stories work that way.  It seems to me that stories are always about people.  Even when the tale centers on an animal (The Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Black Stallion…), the lure of the yarn is the (human) intelligence that guides the actions of characters (and resonates with human audiences).  Does the world population of literate white whales explain the fact that Moby Dick still sells?

While Breaking Bad illustrates many fundamental principles of capitalism, the story is utterly rooted in the forces that move people to action.  Stories exist at the heart of social media because people create and recite them.  People pay attention to them.  And people are the active/attractive elements in stories of/by/for and about people.

I think of stories as the nuclear bond at the crux of social media that grow by being taken and spread regardless of compensation.

I think of money as the practical (not philosophical or theoretical) opposite of stories.  Money’s power (for good or ill) increases as it is accumulated/concentrated.

I think of stories about money as fascinatingly oxymoronic, and the current expectation that money should be exchanged when stories are told is just cosmically ironic.

The creation of stories is a necessary function of culture:   The cultural organism excretes an unlimited stream of narratives (through assholes we call writers and story-architects).  That certain segments of our population claim the right to exact payment for particular streams of cultural excrement seems, to me, shockingly presumptuous, especially when the protestors are armies of lawyers representing men at the tippy-top of a handful of pyramids  that comprise horizontally-and-vertically-integrated transnational media cartel(s); two entirely different sets of assholes, lawyers and moguls, from which socially-interesting excrement almost never spews.  I suspect that social media (story) and commerce (money) are practically antithetical, pulling in opposite directions (and sometimes spinning in parallel), and too-rarely do they collide as expected.  And Hollywood is obssessed with the art of bottled lightning.

The next day:

I’m picking up Season 3 via an iTunes “season pass”, and watched the newly-released third episode I.F.T. last night.  I’d probably have missed the significance of the title were it not for the accompanying Inside Breaking Bad download that highlights the meaningfulness of the episode’s title, which is probably an abbreviation of Skyler’s powerful, pivotal confessional statement, “I fucked Ted”.

I say probably, because  Anna Gunn’s actual pronouncement was probably censored to hush the naughty word in her sentence to a whisper.  So I’m not entirely certain whether Skyler mirrored Walter’s confession, “I make meth” with her own reference to a permanent and ongoing, parallel secret life that isn’t safely locked away in the past tense.

“I make meth” and “I fuck Ted” are significantly different statements from “I made meth” and “I fucked Ted” in context of the disastrous implosion of their marriage.  But the (probable) influence of lawyers and moguls leads me to surmise that my uncertainty over “fuck/fucked” will have to sort itself out in the course of the continuing story, so these three paragraphs amount to nothing more than a footnote of protest.

Eight days out (from I.F.T):

It mattered a lot whether Skyler confessed to a lone indiscretion or an ongoing romantic catastrophe for their marriage.  She confessed to iniquity to fix an inequity with Walter, whose resolve to go straight is perfectly illustrated (and perfectly thwarted) in the last few frames of the very next episode, Green Light.  One or the other of them might make an exception and forgive the other’s past and pardonable error in judgment, but all hope of change is negated as these married antagonists are drawn inexorablycloser together by the power of that which they each hold sacred, and against the dictates of common sense, self preservation and conscience while Jesse and Hank are doing exactly that very same thing.  (Hanks is The Bomb in Albuquerque and a tiny fish out of water in the bigger pond of El Paso.)

Whoever muted one naughty word in Skyler’s fateful confession will doubtless remain anonymous, and while that important decision does a disservice (that matters) to every member of the audience, it really doesn’t matter at all.  It just calls attention to the hypocritical stupidity that makes this show so powerful; systemic failures on showcased display, highlighting warts and all.

18 July 2012.  Last night I saw the first episode of season five, in which we learn that:

1.   Ted ain’t dead!

2.  Jesse’s contribution to planning the ultimate Heisenburglary is uncharacteristically brilliant, adopted, implemented, executed, and BEHOLD!  It leads to a whole new dimension of uncertainty represented by a fabled mountain of Fring wealth.

3.  Mike will graciously accept on-faith The Infallible Wisdom of Walter when pigs fly, Ted keeps his word, Skyler forgives Walter, and less is more.

4.  If Breaking Bad isn’t the best show on television (and it doesn’t have to be), it’s nonetheless, absolutely riveting,

Now that I’ve marathoned 7 seasons of Star Trek:  Voyager, and 6.5 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I can say without equivocation that the advantages provided by appointment television (to audiences and culture) are relatively negligible.  They exacerbate the negative effects of uncertainty in cliffhangers, hiatuses, syndications, cancellations, pregnancies, firings, beard growth…while convening phase-locked watchers for the benefit of sponsors hawking crap in carts the industry puts in front of the engines-of-creation that actually draw attention.  Once upon a time, my goddaughter defended her beloved TNG when I told her that I loved the show, except for the irritating frequency of all the goddamned commercials.  Twenty years ago, we couldn’t have content without commercial interruption.  Since then, it has become more difficult to recognize the box canyon into which we’ve been hearded-up, headed in, rolled up, driven in…Rawhide!  Rawhide!  Rawhide!

Wipe that foam off your mouth!

05 Apr 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 6 Comments

Without Love

For some reason, NetFlix has automatically rejected my review of this 1945 Tracy/Hepburn film, so I’m dropping my impressions here:

This film is brilliantly overloaded with proven box office talent.  Barry plays and Stewart screenplays (customized for Hepburn) bring fascinating questions about open marriage and platonic love from dusty tomes of philosophy and biting literary references to life in the presence of organic modern music and deeply gifted actors.  But it doesn’t actually work quite as well as Holiday nor The Philadelphia Story, largely because of the numerous characters and complicated subplots that pull attention in various directions that (don’t really matter much and ) magically resolve in exactly the kind of family-friendly tenderness, optimistic passion and genuine warmth that was telegraphed before the start of principle photography.

Curiously, this film is overburdened with long moments of sparkling wit, extended periods of profoundly meaningful silence, sophisticated charm, deeply adult ideas about companionship, and frequent bursts of comedic brilliance.

It ought to have been the (re)launching platform for a half-dozen amazing post-war careers; and it was, but the film also stands as a testament to all failed attempts to bottle lightning.  Sometimes the best ingredients result in flat champagne or fireflies. 

This film is a remarkably interesting and engaging disappointment that begs for your careful analysis.

17 Mar 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Comments Off on Without Love

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

This 1956 Fox film addresses uniformity in postwar, 1950s, middle class American family life strangely.  It touches on the suit.  It presents aspects of the inner workings of a couple of nuclear families.  It centers around the headquarters of a thriving television network (in TechniColor and CinemaScope).  It does these things without actually saying much of anything about them.  Conformity?

The cardinal device employed concerns three American women, the wife of the protagonist, the wife and daughter of the protagonist’s CEO.  Each of these women is glimpsed in surprisingly ugly profiles as bitter, intractable, demanding and fundamentally infantile…yet each is duly worshipped for reasons that aren’t remotely explained in the film.

James Monaco’s commentary track led me to think about other things that only tangentially relate to this odd little big-budget pointless film.  He mentioned that ABC was a latecomer to the 50s television industry.  Competing with NBC and CBS which were prosperous radio-broadcasting networks based in New York.  West Coast-based ABC’s problems with funding resulted in alliances with Disney and Warner Brothers Studios.  The liaison between the upstart television broadcaster and movie studios resulted in a philosophical production rivalry.  Live entertainment from New York’s wealth of theatrical and radio talent was vastly more expensive than recorded television produced in keeping with the Hollywood tradition of archival presentation/representation of entertainment designed to control access by the audience.

The more cost-effective model won, and the East Coast television broadcast industry moved west, modelling itself after ABC.  The decline of live television, conventional radio shows, even Broadway theatrical presentation owe their loss of audience-attention to the success of ABC and the resurgence of Hollywood studio power as the West Coast system converted its sucess in cinema archives to archival television broadcasting.

The natural evolution of complex, serial, longform narrative was likewise retarded by the preeminent emergence of the ABC model of television production because weekly, self-contained 30 or 60minute episodes were deemed more salable (to network affiliates [in syndicated, non-consecutive representation]than treating programs as wholes).  And the revolutionary countermeasures employed by Hollywood to overcome the threat of East Coast television (CinemaScope, stereophonic sound and TechniColor) were likewise deemed by the studios to be less cost effective than constraints imposed by utilization of the existing television medium (4:3 aspect ratio, monaural sound and grayscale).  Rather than continuing competition with the innovative opportunities potentiated by the television medium for the attention of audiences, studios simply muted the importance of color television, stereo sound and widescreen presentation until that stuff enhanced the value of products owned and controlled by studios.

And that’s why The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a TechniColor CinemaScope film in stereo was created in 1956 to draw audiences into theaters yet hasn’t seen much broadcast time until the advent of DVDs when audiences can witness top-flight actors meandering through a pointless story.  It wasn’t about storytelling, but specifically designed to present viewers with an ultimatum that denigrated televison in favor of the more engaging medium of cinema.  The studios succeeded, not by revolutionizing film production, but by causing television to conform to the will of movie moguls who duly came to own the intellectual properties that fuel both cinema and television.  The engine of these changes in the 60 years of television’s ubiquitous popularity is cost-effective production coupled with addictive storytelling that collects eyeballs and glues butts to seats while starving culture of value and meaning. 

That mercenary agenda has very little interest in the cultural significance of useful, innovative, meaningful storytelling.  It’s about making money.  Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Heroes and LOST are prime examples of studio products that don’t rely on dynamic storytelling to garner audience attention to meaningful stories.  They’re the result of ABCs success in subverting two forms of media that might have taught us much more about our world than Edward R. Murrow feared would serve the interests of the captains of mainstream media.  Murrow was right.  We’ve been wronged.

Nothing I’ve said here is substantiated by research.  It’s purely speculative opinion.

13 Mar 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off on The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

The Man in The White Suit

This 1951 Ealing comedy is a perfect film that’s perfectly executed.  It invents a perfect synthetic fabric and populates the narrative with characters whose imperfections polymerize into the antithesis of the putative aspirations of industry, labor and the common man; criminally empty platitudes about development and progress.

The creation of an incredibly strong fabric that repels dirt, never wears out and practically can’t be cut sounds like the ultimate invention of the textile industry, but results in ever-widening circles of absolute and perfect panic as the people in the film who represent capital, labor and customers come to see this product as the  terminating element in their practice of business-as-usual.  Squabbling, pomposity, the vapid adherance to ridiculous rules…the flaws in people, traditional practices and mercantile relationships of producers and customers are used as gags to punctuate and illustrate the inutility of perfection in a world governed by absolute fools.

While the creation of this perfect product consumes the first half of the film, the inability of the characters to recognize value in its creator foreshadows the eventual discovery as generous people of vision and penetrating foresight grace the entire presentation with conspicuousness of their absence.  A cinematic environment filled with subtle and blatant class-intimidation, stupidity and pathological self-interest perfectly contrast and clash with the altruistic character whose sole intent is to realize the dream product.  And the intricate processes by means of which that perfectly-motivated individual achieves the ideal he’s dreamed about are expressed (primarily in pantomime) in this perfect film in perfect gags and situations that procede at a pace that’s uncommonly rapid in the entire body of conventional (slow-developing) British films.

I always object to the industry use of multiple camera-angles in storytelling, which leads me to believe that this perfect story might have been told even more remarkably by giving Sidney Stratton (Alec Guinnes) a constant (small canine) companion to represent a coherent audience-point-of-view throughout the film.  And fluctuations in volume levels (usually involving softspoken women and an incredibly loud, pedantic score) are always disturbing.  BUT these inherent flaws in the continuing evolution of 20th Century filmmaking are practically ubiquitous, and don’t significantly detract from the profound enjoyment of a perfect film.

13 Mar 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Comments Off on The Man in The White Suit

Reproduction

Fifty years ago, when I was nine, I decided not to reproduce.  The reasons for this decision were manifold, but they centered on the merits of my parents’ relationship and shortcomings in my reasoning abilities.

This choice at an early age precluded my serious undertaking of courtship, marriage and family, and led me on a solitary path separate and distinct from the programming of mainstream society.  It was a good choice.

Looking back on fifty years of a life at variance from the usual, I see a number of flaws in my execution of my end-of-line plan.  Most of these involve my failure to take adequate responsibility for contraception in the heat of a lengthy career of profligate inseminations.  A more responsible version of me would now devote all of his resources to identifying his fuckups, and caring for any that exist.  I won’t do that.

11 Mar 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Desk Set

Here’s a 1957 movie about the digital revolution.  It stars Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as a couple of accomplished bachelors whose lives have been dedicated to seemingly-dissimilar pursuits.  She’s the primary research librarian for a television network located at 30 Rockefeller Center in New York, and he’s the creator of an early mainframe computer…that’s apparently intended to take over her job.  The story revolves around the implicit fear that office automation would inevitably displace millions of people from their places of employment, replaced by terribly efficent and cost-effective machines.

It’s interesting that a half-century has passed and so very little has changed.  Business continues to run on the variability, complexity and adaptability of people while longing for the simplicity, reliability and consistency of comparatively inexpensive mechanical intelligence.  Offshoring, outsourcing and various methodologies of devaluing the contribution of loyal people to commerce seems to be intrinsic to the pursuit of doing prudent business.  Unfortunately, the sterility injected into the souls of working people by this paired search for efficiency and extirpation of humanity from business has the lingering side effect of limiting the degree and quality of engagement with our jobs. 

Ultimately, the movie resolves in the belated revelation that the computer was always intended to extend the power and scope of the research librarians, it was never meant to replace them.  It’s still the inability of computer experts to explain the intent of their dreams and the traditional inhumanity of employers that justly fuel the (irrational) fears of people who work for a living.

It deserves mention that the DVD commentary for this film could not be much more irrelevant to the plot, themes and the almost-completely invisible competence of the actors.  I’m going to watch it again with the sound turned off just to see Tracy animate his character in pantomime: 

“Never let them catch you acting.”

Although he’s a bit of an ugly fuck, he’s kind of a joy to watch.

05 Mar 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Comments Off on Desk Set

Bombs

In the first 30 minutes of The Hurt Locker, stuff that’s never explained begins to happen.  A wheel falls off a wagon, an engaging, dynamic squad-leader dies and isn’t mourned before we meet his replacement (who reminded me of the closeted-loony played by Martin Sheen in Apocalypse, Now).  All of that’s okay for a film with a great, and justly deserved, reputation.  Oops.

Early confusion is par-for-the-course, for any earnest audience, so I prepared to knuckle-down and get into the rhythym of the action.  But Sgt. James, the new squad leader, begins his first day by blowing off the ‘bot, donning the blast-suit and strolling down to the unexamined lethal contraption by the mosque.  And apparently purposefully obscuring the view of his two heavily armed protectors by tossing a smoke grenade in his wake.  Why?

That’s the point at which my confidence in the filmmakers was severely shaken.  They never won it back with

  • multiple jiggling cameras,
  • familiar faces in tiny cameo roles, and, most importantly,
  • the absolute failure to show me just one coherent story. 

I loved the complex confusion that’s intrinsic in Generation Kill last week, and eventually found plenty of episodic, character-driven storytelling to like in Danger UXB, but Hurt Locker‘s attempt to “challenge the medium” by creating cinematic profiles of three individuals at war simply missed the boat on which documentary filmmakers learn to be adequate storytellers.

The film is more suspenseful early rather than late, and the longer it lasts the less the squad’s relationship to one another makes cohesive sense, and the kicker at the end of the film translates into a curse that resonates with some (unfamiliar) guy’s quote that “War Is a Drug”

Oh.  So Sergeant William James (like President Harrison Ford in Air Force One) is the tough and enigmatic hero who survives an incredible ordeal —  to emerge from the terrible crucible, pretty much, exactly as he went in.  Enigmatic heroes are a dodge.  Don’t ask.  Whether 1800 kilogram bombs are dropped deep into London from 10,000 feet or whipped together at Iraqi roadsides, there’s something profoundly cowardly about the randomness of the victimization and a complementary intrinsic nobility in the people who disarm them.  (Don’t EVEN ask about any similar intrinsic nobility of terrorists and Nazis.  Let them make their own little movies.)  

Apparently it’s possible to elevate “the most dangerous job on Earth” into a pointless movie about nothing in particular and garner awards and nominations and be flooded with offers to create more narrative vacuums.  I tend to suspect that the unexplained, counterintuitive smokescreen isn’t what’s wrong with The Hurt Locker, it’s symptomatic of a defective industry.

Even if the apolitical, fictionalized account of one embedded writer’s experience of EOD life in Iraq in 2004 is absolutely true-to-life, random story elements that don’t resolve kill interest in revisiting highly-reputed careers, theaters and maybe even  wars, just or otherwise.

27 Feb 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Fattality and Thinicism

Kevin Smith is a famous guy who had/has a famous problem.  Last Saturday afternoon the filmmaker, raconteur, wit and citizen-journalist stood an excellent chance of catching an earlier Southwest Airlines flight from Oakland back to Burbank.  The problem emerged when someone in authority decided to prevent his fortuitously early departure by citing his girth as a reason to reject him from his standby seat on that earlier flight.

The inside skinny has been thoroughly detailed here (at SModcasts 106 & 107):  http://smodcast.com/109-100.html

and  littered around various lax media outlets from Huffington Post to Good Morning America, but the probem Kevin Smith faced, explored and expanded into a national (maybe international) public relations fiasco for Southwest Airlines really concerns the continuing struggle between irresponsible corporations and Consumers of Shame.

A Southwest Airlines employee decided, last Saturday afternoon, to flex a little authority at an available target.  That victim has turned out to be a fat guy who has earned the attention of millions of people.  Smith’s spontaneous ire at the slings and arrows flesh is heir to was barked into an open mike, and for the past half-week, a minor media circus has resulted. 

Now an anonymous airline employee (possibly the very one who actually was responsible) will either be offering a personal apology to Kevin Smith or he/she won’t.  The only certainty I’d like to offer is that corporations came into existence precisely and specifically in order to deflect the necessities of personal liability for the decisions and actions of corporate representatives…so the illusion of personhood in the form of Southwest Airlines may simply (and irresponsibly) stop talking about Smith’s problem, expecting it to go away.

Fat, (ex-?)smoker, profane, celebrated, smart, talented, middle-aged…; the characteristics of Kevin Smith are each of them vulnerabilities that may (in any given context) outrage a particular authority sufficiently to flex cowardly power from the cover of a corporate cloak of invisibility.  But apart from his global audience, and the ability to speak with them, the characteristic that makes Kevin Smith the wrong canary to fuck with is his relative comfort with himself.  He’s famously less-ashamed of himself than lots of the rest of us are, and speaks for an ever-widening variety of people when he flat-refuses to be casually persecuted, because NOBODY IS as NORMAL/REGULAR/TYPICAL as random, thoughtless bureaurats require us to be.

The Kevin Smith vs Southwest Airlines media debacle may evaporate into memory in the next couple of minutes, but The Problem is going to persist. 

Fat is one small part of The Problem; subordination and shame don’t seem to result in obedience like they used to.

Fattality is a state of mind in which I’m reasonably okay with who  I am. 

Thinicism is the kind of ridiculously unnecessary cruelty I visit on myself and other people, when I don’t like who I am.  Thinical people are more obedient than fattalists, and that’s the heart of The Problem that was lying in wait for Kevin Smith at Oakland Airport on Saint Valentine’s Day; a dose of the FU2 virus.  Ironic.

I think the first victim of abused authority is personal dignity.  Apart from the wit, intelligence, fame and the talent to tell several stories I’ve liked, Kevin Smith’s character balked like a nightmare at an instance of cowardly, corporate thinicism; the kind of creative hero I really, really like, admire and aspire to emulate.

http://www.salon.com/life/broadsheet/feature/2010/02/16/flying_while_fat

and

http://silentbobspeaks.com/?p=394

17 Feb 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Restless

At the end of season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the BigBad has been vanquished and The Initiative is not only broken but obliterated, scattered and denied as though it had never happened beneath the plausible deniablility of “scorched earth” and governmental scoffing.  The season-long arc has climaxed in episode twenty-one, which leaves Restless as an aftermath of summing and evaluating the work the show had done — for four years.  And it’s written in ancient iambic Sumerian, Buffy Summerian, that is; swimmin’ pools, movie stars…

It’s an anthology of dreams of the four principle characters who joined together (even more completely than of-yore) to defeat the BigBad by invoking the soul of the power of the slayer, which just happens to annoy the hell out of the entire tradition of slayers, which manifests in each of their four more-or-less fragmentary dreams to threaten their waking lives for having the temerity to flout the chain-of-command (slayer tradition) by going directly to the source that’s personified in the original slayer, a solitary misanthrope, the victim of frightened old men.

And the writer’s/director’s commentary for that episode reflects his intentional, insistent break with tradition to write an hour of only-vaguely-linear, subtexual exposition about the sandbox in which four characters met to create a television show; the writer’s sandbox.

Buffy’s success as a programming victory for an insignificant market reached more people than were targeted in an age-appropriate demographic by breaking with tradition, remixing staid conventions and going directly to the source of the power that unites writers and audiences; by making something new from stuff that had already been done to death.  And Restless departs from the customary path that defines the rise and fall of television shows.  It specifically and particularly defies its own traditions by (among other things) previously portraying Spike in The Yoko Factor as the maniplative influence of network/studio executive notes and messageboard remarks from fans.  Everybody meddles, well-wishers, censors, sponsors, fans…even artists meddle with their own work.

Call it classic or cheesy television, if you must.  I’ll just describe it as art.  Like fashions, cultish devotion and popcultural references, obsession with novelties wax and wane, but Mutant Enemy produces work that continues to delight me as I age, finding rich new layers of meaningful content embedded in each successive assay; not unlike Casablanca — it never seems to get stale.  I don’t see Dollhouse in the same light, but it’s loaded with ideas that deserve (and will receive) plenty of additional scrutiny.

Restless is a remarkably transparent statement about nourishing the writer/artist/content-creator by flouting the interests of significant others by engaging with the source of pleasure in writing stuff people will eventually come to realize they need because it keeps the saga alive in the souls of the writers/artists/content-creators who refuse to work on their knees, pandering to past success; pandering to pandering.  It also does that for the audience.

I believe that the factor that killed the Beatles was their unqualified success, the overwhelming public adoration for what they’d already made together acted as a profound deterrent to whatever hadn’t happened yet.  It wasn’t/isn’t Yoko, but public inertia; popular yearning for more-of-the-same that kills artists (by rewarding copyists and meddlers).

The most singularly valuable thing I’ve leaned while following the blog of The Ad Contrarian came from a guy named Guy who said that discovery and invention are very different processes; that academics invent categories, classifications, comparisons and contrasts, while fortunate and talented scientists and artists discover things that really can’t be vivisected without significant loss.  And the death of social media happens when reputation acts as an impediment to stepping out of character and discovering something new.

23 Jan 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Comments Off on Restless

Transmediopoly

Having spent the past couple of hours reading and thinking here:

http://cameronmcmaster.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/transmedia-more-like-vapidmedia/

it seemed especially appropriate to consider carefully Jeff Gomez’ opening statement,

“I’m the first to admit that there are far too many diverse definitions of transmedia and even transmedia narrative, but even the mavericks in our crowd will agree that the term is distinguished by the fact that story becomes paramount in the dispersal of content across various media platforms and formats.”

I’d like to suggest that story is probably paramount to storytellers and central to all interested content creators, but angels seem to fixate on ROI.

I like longform-story-that-incentivizes-audience-archaeology kind of a lot!  And with only the sketchiest understanding of the contingencies involved in the metrics of franchise-success, the intricacies of narrative structure, the byzantine complexities of product distribution and predictive business models…I see the transmedia movement as prone to several practical hazzards.  Firefly is my shining example of a deeply-engaging IP that was brutally murdered by its angels.

The corporate ownership of intellectual property is where mainstream media starts, right this minute, here&now.  Corporations exist to limit personal liability while maximizing profit.  The fundamental purposes corporations serve are radically different (maybe antithetical) to the purposes of art.  And without defining art, consider the state of the art of the contemporary corporation: 

Composed of competing divisions, the modern corporation is representative of a culture rife/riddled with proprietary secrets, flexible alliegences, and a remunerative structure that’s most beneficial to

  1. persons at the tippy-top of its hierarchical strucure and
  2. shareholders whose contribution to the creation of product could not be more intangible.

I see the transmedia movement as capable of branding the template of corporate culture deep into the living flesh of independent content creation.  That’s totally anti-progressive for the evolution of art and prevents the growth and facilitation of the collaboration of independent artists. 

Whether narrative or profit is paramount to modelmakers, animators, actionfigure assembly-line-workers… isn’t the point I’m trying to make.  It’s that the art of collaboration is more important than the quality or quantity of the end product, to me.  I suspect that the inevitable ubiquity of now-developing transmedia modalities in content creation will be very greatly influenced by corporate culture; the only pockets deep enough to fund widely-popular experiments, with an eagle-eye on ROI, and platitudes about the primacy of story.

I do not mean to impugn Jeff Gomez’ word nor his integrity, but I’m fundamentally curious about entertainment projects owned by the widening diversity of artists who made them — for the benefit of culture, rather than funding agencies and angels.  Transmedia entertainment might become the exemplary beacon of participatory democracy, but an environment ruled by

  • governmental mandates,
  • corporate ownership/interference, and
  • audiences geared to behave like inattentive herd animals

doesn’t bode well for the vitality of liberty, the emancipation of the arts, nor artists, nor people.  That’s all.

15 Jan 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Soulless

Rhymes with “solace” as the antimatter reboot episode of Angel 4.11 in which Angelus is tactically invoked to replace Angel for the specific purpose of putting an end to The Beast (that blotted out the sun and would probably devour Cleveland).  And that’s quite enough about that.

I’d like to take this opportunity to bitch about Connor and Cordelia.  The two of them are written in a way that makes this fourth season a very difficult passage to the series final year.  I’ve now seen Vincent Kartheiser in only two roles, but both of the characters he’s portrayed are disgustingly ambiguous.  In Mad Men, Kartheiser’s acknowledged talents elicit moments of tremendous sympathy that rise high above my accustomed contempt for his character’s slippery, self-serving values and tendency toward treasonous toadying…but Pete’s been there since the beginning of that series; integral to its success.  In Angel, Connor is a climactic insert, an add-on, an appendix that never seems to go away, adding a bottomless suck-hole of selfpity, sexual perversity and quasi-religious fixated venom that borders on insanity.

Mutant Enemy’s fondness for Charisma Carpenter has never seemed less justifed than in the course of this season of Angel, in which Cordelia’s everpresent influence thwarts everything I enjoyed in the show.  As a foil, Cordelia was invaluable, but as a scold and a pillar of reason, she’s utterly superflous…and I say these things about the characters who were written by the most admirable brand I know.  Cordelia and Connor stink, while Kartheiser’s brilliant portrayal of a crap-hole sings with an actor’s sensitive and intelligent choices, the character just sucks ass.  The thing is that I blame the writers for driving an incredibly complex, multiseason plot-arc through the incestuous liaison between Connor and Cordelia that’s foreshadowed by Angel’s implausible fixation on the wellbeing of his dearly beloved but mostly-evil son.

Sidebar:  I’ve known admirable individuals who marry admirable individuals and reproduce in order to become horrid parents who make contemptible choices, persistently, whenever they’re obliged to choose between sane behavior and actions that might possibly infringe upon the wellbeing of their little ones.  These choices extend to barring the use of profanity within fifty yards of their kids, smoking most anything, the display of affection between unmarried adults…It’s the kind of drastically-altered, hypocrital mindset that murders longstanding friendships, and results in horrid kids who sometimes become admirable individuals, especially if they estrange themselves from their parents early.

Angel leans quite deeply in that revolting direction.  He prevents Cordelia from joining in the search for The Beast stating that she’s far too precious to him to risk her life and safety needlessly, then he tells Fred to get a move on (as though Fred were labelled BEASTFODDER).  The wizards at Mutant Enemy pointedly drew the distinction between Fred and Cordelia to highlight Angel’s Cordelia-related compulsion that would require several more episodes of tedious semi-credible explanation, but the special place for Connor and Cordelia in Angel’s theoretical heart casts piles of unloving disregard on every other character for a very long time…and that’s why season 4 seems a great deal longer than all of the others.   The moment in Orpheus when Angel rescues a small dog from the path of an oncoming car in the 1920s reminds me of the Shatner-meets-Collins temporal paradox that’s pivotal in The City at the Edge of Forever.  Just sayin’.  Thirteen bucks to download nearly 29 hours of Star Trek season one from iTunes.  Such a deal!  I ought to be able to check the ostensible parallel/quote/homage and make a report in about 48 hours.

Paraphrasing Angel:  The purpose of a champion is to behave as though the world were a better place, and thereby set an example for the rest of us.  When Angel behaves like a parent/knave, his show might as well be Ozzie and Harriet.  And I’ve better things to do than that.

A little more bitching:  Interstital transitions are very unlike act breaks.  They don’t adhere to the narrative structure that makes their occurence predictable.  An abrupt change of scene or timeframe on Angel is often accompanied by instantaneous flashes of lightning and attendant bursts of thunder.  These instantaneous overstimulations of the audience sensory instrumentality contrast markedly with several mumbling actors and signature dark cinematography and really piss me off.  They’re all so unpredictable, painfully bright and disconcerting that they also serve as foreshadowing intimations of the arrivial of Jasmine, who, as Skip explains, in Inside Out, is the all-powerful unknown force that’s been nudging, manipulating and influencing important events since long before the start of season one.  I love Skip.  I loathe Jasmine’s bargain that equates world peace with theocratic world domination — and I also loathe blinding interstitial transitions, even when they’re deeply integrated, innovative and intentional enhancements of story.  They fucking HURT.

There are a couple of notable parallels that won’t bear up under serious scrutiny, but I’d be remiss in failing to mention Jasmine’s blatant and subtle resemblance(s) to Oprah, beauty queens and Michelle Obama.  I think that in the moment of her ascension to First Lady, the media reduced our collective perception of her intelligence and personal dynamism by 75%, and has been feeding the world a steady diet of her private sleeve-lengths, child-rearing advice and bits of traditional role debris.  It’s as though media artisans are tirelessly revising Michelle Obama’s breathtaking native identity into the mandatory First Lady’s graven image that generates adoringly-favorable global impressions far more like Oprah’s, Elizabeth II’s, or June Cleaver’s than Hillary’s.  If so, we’re too dumb to pity.

Gwen Raiden is introduced in Ground State (4.02).  Portrayed by the remarkably attractive and adept Alexa Davalos, Gwen appears twice in a couple of later episodes in the middle of that season and never shows up again.  Why?  Rogue didn’t have some of the finest writers in the television industry fabricating snappy banter for her to deliver, though the nature of her superpower made Gwen Raiden almost exactly as incapable of physical intimacy as the X-Men character, Rogue.  Mutant Enemy failed to service the Raiden character adequately, yet they made her emotional isolation chamber infinitely more empathically recognizable in fragments of three episodes than the X-Men franchise managed in three excessively expensive films to make Rogue matter, meaningful, memorable.  See Players for the soul of a spin-off pilot that unfortunately didn’t extend the domain of the slayers beyond Players.

Their commentaries indicate that Mutant Enemy was constantly formulating work-arounds for practical, financial and logistical difficulties, many of which were imposed by their dinky networks or the studio.  I’ve always suspected that the season arcs were exquisitely designed to tell the audience more about the obstacles besetting the production process than all the cumulative speculation in print by academics, fans and critics.  Whistler was replaced by Doyle.  Corruption was replaced by Lonely Hearts.  Angel almost never tasted of human blood, but would have done so in Corruption…it’s the notes and meddling of network and studio executives that lead me to speculate that an angel in theatrical production is a soulless wad-of-money with legs that makes a television show like Angel possible.  The trick of turning angels into  Angel involves making the best possible compromise with hosts of variable-sized demons.  Most production companies don’t entertain by itemizing the cost (in souls) of creating products that give solace.

Some day the final departure of the Groosalug from Angel will make even more poignant sense than Mark Lutz’ last line — if I can grab somebody who knows more than I do (about the Sandy Grushow relationship with Mutant Enemy) by the lapels and torture them until they confirm/contextualize my irrational suspicions regarding Firefly, Buffy and Angel.  No, probably not an opportunity I’ll ever have (to learn a thing or two).

And that passage of The Teddybear’s Picnic that introduces a caged Angelus as the teaser closes in Soulless really should have been overdubbed by a superb vocalist with perfect pitch, to contrast with Angel’s off-key, arhythmic Manilow covers; Anthony Stewart Head, maybe:  Audience notices the markedly-improved voice with surprised satisfaction, then recognizes the singer and with keen curiousity attributes a wealth of deceitful talents to Angelus that make him a more formidable antagonist than Angel.  That’s the note that prompted this post.  Show the viewer someone new, don’t just always tell us.

11 Jan 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments

Ironic

I guess it’s just one of life’s little ironies that an actor bearing a phenomenal resemblance to Anthony Stewart Head makes his singular appearance in Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd about 38 minutes into the film.  Moments after Todd’s tonsorial contest with Pirelli concludes, the actor I’m talking about congratulates the victor with a couple of lines that indicate the inquisitive gentleman fully intends to become one of Todd’s regular customers.

This moment is oddly ironic simply because Anthony Stewart Head’s appearance is

  1. uncredited, and
  2. Head (unless I’m entirely mistaken) was probably the most accomplished professional singer who ever came near the set (exluding coaches and extras).

The one-and-only special feature on the DVD, I just cruised through, makes much of the good fortune and pluck surrounding Tim Burton’s, Helena Bonham Carter’s, Johnny Depp’s and Richard D. Zanuck’s very first musical, ever.  There’s even mention of Burton’s disinterest in the theatrical form of the muscial; Carter’s longstanding passion for the play; and Depp’s having come to Hollywood originally, not as an actor, but as a musician (who never sang)…and yet…movie-magic doesn’t translate this rendition of Sweeney Todd into a hands-down masterpiece of dark cinematic genius.  It’s a fine, engaging, very-visual and well-acted movie that’s 70% singing with reasonably good vocal performances by people who are famously marketed for doing other things.   They classed it up with Alan Rickman, yet gave him very little to do.

I’m probably making strident note of a subtle aftertaste of commerical arrogance that drips like running riulvets of blood from this remarkably entertaining film that might have been something                              ? more rewarding? inspiring? influential?…supm brilliant

It was really very good, just more like Alien Resurrection than Amelie; they were last night.  I gotta say that an esteemed auteur’s name on the cover says very little about end-product-value, nor is an auteur’s interaction with collaborators central to promotion.  Maybe it should be.  And what might a filmmaker learn from a film of audiences watching her film?

A summary Rickmanism:

“You can act truthfully or you can lie. You can reveal things about yourself or you can hide.

Therefore, the audience recognises something about themselves or they don’t —

You hope they don’t leave the theatre thinking ‘that was nice…now where’s the cab?'”

“[Head] was originally to have a role in Sweeney Todd, as a ballad soloist and one of Todd’s murder victims, but, due to the ailing of Johnny Depp’s daughter, the schedule became tight and Head’s character, as well as the characters of 13 other actors, were dropped from the film. Instead, Head made a short cameo appearance as a character who asks whether Sweeney Todd has an establishment of his own. — Wikipedia

That’s my tale of Weenie Todd; hotdog box office appeal, but don’t question the ingredients.

09 Jan 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

GunnFire

The commentary track of Lullaby (Angel 3.09) is provided by Tim Minear, who co-wrote and directed the episode, and Mere Smith,  writer and script coordinator.  It’s the funniest and most insightful 43 minutes of focussed conversation since Lem Dobbs and Steven Soderbergh argued their way through The Limey. 

Lullaby is a pivotal episode in the development of the saga that brings a final end to Darla and introduces Connor, but Minear and Smith somehow manage to kill (one another and me) in the course of a stand-up/sit-down, microscopic leer behind the scenes of the making of M.E. product.  (I really believe that Darla became the soul of the franchise [and Connor was the stake in its heart]).  Plymouth Cock landed on Darla in a way that permitted her backstory to drop dimensional shadow on the whole whore of American history.  Mutant Enemy barely utilized that exquisitely beautiful teaching aid.

Late in the lively frivolity, derisive mention is made of That Old Gang of Mine (3.03) in which Gunn’s loyalties are divided between his old crew and his new one, while black characters perpetrate violent acts of indiscrimate racial intolerance against a local minority population (of dangerous and harmless demons).  I mentioned the rarity of media insight into black racism in an earlier post on Lakeview Terrace, which leads me to marvel at Tim Minear’s (and Mutant Enemy’s) courage in exploring that special brand of darkness that doesn’t seem to win awards or even lift many eyebrows.  (District 9 tried to go there too, but it overdosed on Stupid and Brutal before it succumbed to Moronic.)

I wonder that a white guy from Whittier (Nixon Country — 43.2% white, 1.2% black, 1.3% Indian in 2000) even took a sympathetic shot at addressing the black experience, let alone an intriguingly clear, equivocal one.  Apart from the unambiguously negative regard with which Tim remarked on That Old Gang of Mine, I’d really like to know how it was meant to fit in the M.E. product line, and how it failed to make the more satisfying statement he obviously intended.

The purpose of this post, however, is to mention a kind of alternative interpretive overlay in which I see significant similarities between Charles Gunn and Malcolm Reynolds. 

Gunn’s pickup truck is introduced in War Zone (1.20), bristling with a stake-throwing, bed-mounted machine gun, and Reaver-style Wash-stickers, strongly resembling “the boat”, late in the BigDamnMovie.  I see another similarity in the gradual raising of Gunn from the heartbroken leader of a streetgang (“muscle”) to the stature of a diplomat in the struggle against overpowering and nearly-immortal sanctioned corruption…which (to my mind [vampire/empire]) resembles the evolution of Malcolm Reynolds from the ungenteel son of an independent rancher to heroic soldier, outlaw, bearer of bad news for the established Allied government, and (ultimately) a leader and diplomat in a subsequent war for interplanetary independence.  I even wonder whether J. August Richards was eyeballed to play the role that was given to Nathan Fillion.  No telling, but there’s room for speculation.

One of many latent conflicts deeply embedded in Firefly is the distinct possibility that slavery and indentured servitude remained to be explored in later episodes/seasons, foreshadowed by Badger’s inspection of the teeth of a woman as Mal enters Badger’s office all the way back in the pilot episode, and Badger’s insistence, in that scene, on the importance of his elevated place (above Reynolds) in the wider social hierarchy in which a businessman on a border planet like Persephone ranks significantly higher than the captain of a Ford F-100.  I think the poignancy of a black Capt. Reynolds, veteran of a war of independence against a culture dependent upon the institution of slavery, would have provided the writers additional leverage in telling tales of biting contemporary relevance by means of the microscope of American history and the telescope of speculative, character-driven fiction.  Tag Glory, buzz Ali, circle The Hurricane and honor The Killer Angels by citing George Pickett’s parable of a gentlemen’s club from the point of view of someone who would not or could not belong to a society that would love to have him as a member; choice/no-choice; states’ rights versus federal obligation (to obliterate slavery).  We just can’t seem to put that pesky slavery thing to bed.

Sexual and racial imperfections in the American character were masterfully massaged in the course of the first two series, and what’s coming from the brand I most admire (Mutant Enemy) remains to be seen repeatedly and reinterpreted to death…the overdue death of obscene and obsolete institutions.

Can entertainment production companies teach, change unquestioned practices?  Can television teach?  Where’s Murrow?

07 Jan 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Stuff I Survived

I was 8 when a physician diagnosed my condition as the result of a perforated kidney.  I was hospitalized with an IV drip for a few days, then released with the stern advice to drink plenty of water more frequently to prevent clouds of blood in my urine and a tendency to pass out.  In the narrow behavioral confines of my elementary school environment, racing all the other boys and girls in my class across the schoolyard to the water-fountain/trough struck me as profoundly undignified, and so I knocked my participation in that particular indiginity off, and generalized the reflective mindset into a little bit of kidney pathology. 

Since then, I’ve taken to drinking water frequently and in moderation, but that early lesson in 50s elementary school behavior modification showed me the value (for teachers) of depriving kids of basic needs to afford their teachers a few moment’s respite from the incessant, annoying vagaries of largely-undisciplined children.  It was a fairly shrewd and subtle farmer’s trick that blew up in Mrs. Christopherson’s face when my mother tore into her verbally for depriving her students of face time at the drinking fountain, as a tactic of kid-control.  The fact is that I was silently on Mrs. Christopherson’s side of that argument.  Us kids were awful.  1958.

I’d probably just turned 18 when I bought Lance Raynor’s 1964 Honda 305cc SuperHawk, cheap.  I somehow drove it the 10 miles home (with no previous motorcycle experience) via the freeway and parked it in my parents’ garage.  The next morning, I set myself, prudently, to start safety-training by idling the engine in the driveway, then literally popping the clutch at high idle.

I flew from sidewalk to sidewalk in the blink of an eye, hit the far curb and bounced (like the bike) high into the sky, and landed on our neighbor’s lawn not far from the stalled engine and the tire that spun like an Indian massacre in a dramatic 20-mule-team wagon-disaster.  There was no traffic anywhere in sight, and apart from any neighbors who might be peeking out their windows at the novel engine noise-then-silence, my dignity and life might both survive this brush with their profound fragility.

So I raised, righted and started the bike, pointing it in a reasonable direction.  And I was off!!! on an irresistible adventure in the explosively seductive, intoxicating universe of motorcycling!  How I survived the first 40 miles of that journey, no one knows. 

Suddenly, I was rapidly approaching the T-intersection a bit west of Mill Valley, where a lazy right turn would take me up to Mt. Tamalpais, and going straight would lead toward Muir Woods and Stinson Beach.  Ah, but the  road on the way to the intersection, and the right turn that I fully intended to make, required a significant reduction in speed.  Alarm was clearly reflected on the face of the driver who watched me apprehensively from his place alongside the stop sign.  Neither of us should have survived that turn, but evidence suggests that we did.  1968.

About 15 years later I spent the night with my girlfriend who was housesitting for an extremely rich client at their ranch.  We’d spent the evening cavorting in their opulent surroundings, and in the morning, before Karen awoke, I elected to hang out with their horses.  One thing led to another, and I tossed a blanket and saddle on a dark Palomino, exercising all the virtual horsemanship I’d learned from a youth pretty thoroughly invested in the works of Walter Farley and Anna Sewell, among others. 

The horse must have read better books.  The blanket went on easy as pie.  Adding the saddle was only slightly more difficult.  Cranking the cinch was a bitch, and in only a couple of sidelong steps, the blanket and saddle were off the horse and strewn about the corral.  Undismayed, I hefted the blanket and saddle, and ran at the gelding from behind.  Again with the sidelong eyeball, and a playful acceleration placed a more/less random hoof, quite squarely, in the heart of my big, brass seashell-shaped beltbuckle. 

It’s a very odd sensation to run forward in a brilliant burst of youthful speed and willful determination as the single hoof of a half-ton horse flings you backward with amazing ease.  I’m talking ten to fifteen feet.  Somehow that hoof found the beltbuckle.  There were significantly easier (and more vulnerable) targets.  Sweaty and shaken I called it quits.  The last laugh went to the horse, but the dumb-luck award for beltbuckle selection went directly to me.  1983.

The point of these pointless stories (to which I’ll add further incendents, in subsequent edits, as they arise in my recollection) is that it’s really hard to practice devout agnosticism in the face of subjective evidence of divine intervention.  I’m not inclined to point to a guardian angel or some higher destiny or the nebulous construct of Luck, but stuff that actually happened, stuff that really should have resulted in mutilation &/or death…hasn’t yet.  I’ve learned to approach certain phenomena with greater respect; the south end of a northbound horse, motorcycle transport, educators…but that kind of trepidation is minimal protection against the history I’ve clearly demonstrated of bringing loads of stupid into dangerous situations.  I’m not the only one.

As though to punctuate that final sentence, the room just quivered with a minor earthquake.  I’d estimate a 2.7.

07 Jan 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Dumbocracy

If all gentlemen are created equal, who governs?

Comfortably-fixed, propertied, white males with influential connections (if the historic record is entered into evidence) have ruled an independent American nation since long before it existed. 

Gentlemen govern, but the definition of Gentlemen (which is only properly understood by Gentlemen) is an incindiary semantic discrimination that’s especially provocative when tucked into a justification for rebellion, or a constitution of rules of governanace limiting the power of government to infringe upon the rights of Gentlemen.  Far better to leave the Gentle out and concentrate on Men…better still, People…when the fundamental proposition is that The People will lend indispensible support to the Gentlemanly representatives of choice.

So how in the world can Gentlemen persuade the rest of us to vote for them?  Pretend that government of/by/for Gentlemen is of/by/for People; that voters know at least enough to vote prudently…but secret matters of national security, ruinous scandals, and the partially-revealed intrigues of special interests continually demonstrate the fact that we do not, cannot, must not know facts that are best left to be sifted by the greater intelligence, experience and know-how of the Gentlemen who lead us.

So, disinformed, misinformed and led, we vote for comfortably-fixed, propertied, white males with influential connections.

Now that Journalism, The Fourth Estate, the Megaphone of Freedom is in desperate financial difficulty, I’ve begun to wonder that it was ever allowed to become a commercial institution; IF the necessary function The Press performs is the punctual distribution of valid information about the factual state of the nation to an informed constituency…why have they always charged for printed newspapers?

“Free” news depends upon advertising, which turns the voter’s (guarded and reluctant) attention over to the special interests of the advertiser.  And the information provided by anchorpersons is usually less informative than it is diverting, persuasive or incomplete; bent on serving the interests of the commercial entities that broadcast less information than the People generally need to make informed decisions.

When the Writers Guild of America struck, about 27 months ago, they stopped working for networks, studios and production companies that constitute mainstream media; and by a Gentlemen’s agreement chose to restrict presentation of their side of the collective bargaining disageement to weblogs and various forms of alternative media…so there was practically no broadcast news of the strike until it was over; officially proclaimed by networks, studios and mainstream media.  Consequently, much of The Public still believes that the tantrum of pampered, overpayed screenwriters ruined the 2008 television season, damaged movie production and played a small but detrimental part in this ongoing recession — particularly in L.A. 

Wrong.

If the screenwriters are presently engaged in educating The Public to the meagre trickles of compensation afforded the creative comunity by transnational conglomerates that own their intellectual property and dabble in mainstream media, I’m not seeing it.  I think the architects of our entertainment squander their primary weapon (which ought to be brought to the rapidly-approaching next round of negotiations) by failing to educate Us. 

A strike wreaks havoc across the board, but a strategic, global boycott of studio product strikes terror in the hearts of corporate giants.  And the threat of the call for a global boycott doesn’t exist without the voluntary support of People who buy DVDs, watch television, go to movies.  The WGA and the wider creative community cannot get that voluntary support by leaving mainstream media to tell us all about the next catastrophic writers’ strike.  Nikki Finke, United Hollywood and independent cinema didn’t win the They Get Paid, We Get Paid fight last time, either.

So, disinformed, misinformed and cruelly led, we’ll vote for comfortably-fixed, propertied, white males with influential connections…again.

(I still don’t know how much of every dollar I donated to the Obama campaign was instantly given to Rupert, Sumner, Les, Bob and Jeff for my candidate’s spots in broadcast media.  And I probably never will know.)

That’s dumbocracy.

02 Jan 10 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Blue Hands

In Sanctuary (Angel 1.19) Detectives Lockley and Kendrick converse casually but meaningfully while investigating one of Faith’s innumerable crime scenes.  They talk about pithy junk before Kendrick challenges Lockley’s faith in ooga-booga-stuff with unassailable, empirical and logical reason by nailing her with a topical X-Files reference, which Lockley corrects by undercutting Kendrick’s faith in his generally cocky cop-hipness.  Whatever.  The most remarkable aspect of this interaction is that all of the plainclothed and uniformed cops trooping around the room are sporting blue(-gloved) hands in an episode that aired 02May00, which is just about 28 months before the BlueHands guys made their first appearance on Firefly.

Sanctuary was written by Tim Minear and Joss Whedon, who must have noticed the striking visual peculiariarity of the viagra/TidyBowl-mitts-effect and  simply incorporated that unsettling visual event into the repertoir of the disturbingly bureaucratic and lethal Blue Hands duo, like an ace-in-the-hole.  The other intriguing similarity resides in the Firefly episode, Safe, in which some stress is placed on the irony of the episode-title in that nobody we care about (not even two very rich generations of Tams) is remotely free of danger — and just as Angel confidently comforts Faith in the certainty that no harm can befall her in the comfort of the sanctuary his ultra-low-profile fortress will afford, a heavily-armed Council of Watchers taskforce descends like nightmare terrorists into her morbid gloom and attempts to put the boot to the big damned hero-vampire, rogue slayer and most anybody dumb enough to be caught in Angel’s subtextual asylum.

I’m not saying that any of these casual observations are important or terribly meaningful, but they’re nothing less than noteworthy, either.

29 Dec 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 2 Comments

I’ve Got You Under My Skin

I’ve always said that Angel 1.14 is my favorite episode in that series, citing the fine narrative devices that lead the viewer to the deeper reveal beyond the dear old hackneyed.  I don’t remember noticing previously that The Prodigal episode (that directly follows my permanent favorite)  drops our titular protagonist into the eternal Oedipal soup in the very same position that Ryan occupies in the preceding hour.  Angelus’ consternation arrives with Darla’s incontestible observation, to blight the hellish victory he’s made of his liberated future on the bodies of his parents and the blameless faith of his murdered sister.

I’ve always thought that  I’ve Got you Under My Skin speaks with uncommon brilliance, through the horror of an Ethros demon, of the writer’s void.  It also opens the cover on a study on the properties of bullying.  The thing is that The Prodigal ends by refreshing the infinite uncertainty of the challenged, writerly point of view, and expressing it in the wordless revelation of tragic futility or divine humilation that plays across Liam’s face.  A transposed and augmented echo that’s approximately as indescribably cool as the last chord in A Day in the Life.

There’s an allegorical warning there, lurking in the darkness.  It’s probably meant to caution those who aspire to be either vampires or writers; not so much to dissuade anyone, as to fairly present the first, unpublicized sacrifice that marks the turf where a person died and a writer arose it its place.  Great stories sometimes appear long before we’re ready to appreciate them whole. 

“Let’s get to work”, is an unremarkable phrase that ends the series’ final episode as aptly and succinctly as it punctuates the first.  It’s a phrase that goes entirely unnoticed on the first pass through the show, yet stands out like a hitchhiker’s swollen thumb sticks out from beneath the tires of the bus, whenever the story’s retold, with the shocking inevitability of half-forgotten prophecy.

28 Dec 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Choices

I’m just sitting here ruminating about Episode 19 of Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer  in an exploratory kind of way.  Thinking that Faith is a fairly obvious name for a character that may also extend a metaphor made popular by J. Michael Straczynski in Babylon 5.  That

  • faith and reason are your shoes, you’ll get farther with both.

There are two slayers in Sunnydale, despite prophecy and tradition and common sense which dictate there can be only one     at a time…on. the. entire. planet.  And Faith (Id) is a trifle unbalanced, perceiving the gift of her slayer powers as unqualified license to satisfy all of her amoral appetites, spurn all personal responsibility for her independent actions, and deny the importance of untoward consequences that flow naturally and logically from the free exercise of those powers.  It’s all 5×5 to terminate vampires, but the moment she exterminates one measly human, a scrutinizing circle of social condemnation converges on her judgment and her capacity for reason…which leads her into the ridiculous happy arms of affable, fatherly evil.  Faith in The Unknown versus rationally-deduced knowledge of empirical fact; there’s probably a wildly-successful televison show or 50, somewhere in that dogfight.

Two slayers in Sunnydale should lead one to the natural conclusion that Buffy, is probably the story’s repository of reason.  Um, no.  Regroup. (Return with us now to Dopplegangland, where ultra-inhibited Willow meets her evil alternative-self, who’s surprisingly attractive, amoral, and kinda gay [Foreshadow much?]) I’m thinking it’s gotta be Willow because this episode coincides with the (shockingly-arbitrary) natural order of high school seniors choosing which college (destiny) toward which they’ll embark for the following season(s).  Willow’s option-identity is exactly opposite Faith’s with regard to offers from Oxford, Harvard, MIT…while the more-amoral slayer (who dropped out of high school long ago) is presented with a decidedly limited number of far-less-illustrious options (that might involve hopping a freight out of town).  And this episode’s entitled, Choices.  But Willow’s abduction by the forces of mayoral evil (during the theft of the box of bat-spiders) forces the Slayity (Scoobies — I just prefer to call them the Slayity) to choose between rescuing Willow from torture and death or to thwart the mayor’s plans for the box.  Oz wordlessly casts the deciding vote.  No choice.

I’m going with the college-choice thingy, for now.   So if Buffy isn’t the Fort Knox of Reason, I’ve just got to conclude she’s always been the dynamic balance between two terms of an inspired contradiction; the primary target of terrifying evil…who just happens to be a champion evil-ass-kicker.  Buffy’s always been the pivotal oxymoron, the neo-iconic contradiction to the hackneyed stereotype of cheerleader victimization, damsel in distress, virgin/whore…and stuff, taking back the knight for refund (and maybe a delicious cookie — I just love the way she delivers that line, as though this show were Sesame Street and she’s a precocious 3year-old).  So Faith and Willow represent a cardinal opposition of faith and reason that encompases a rare confrontation between the two of them in the mayor’s office when (to my ear it’s entirely clear that) Willow’s the master of her destiny, while Faith is a leaf on the wind of fatal circumstance.  “Tough life?  Boo-hoo.” (Do better!)    ♫Willow, weep for M.E.♪  (Superego much?)

But, while faith, reason and balance work just fine as a nifty, patented triunity of Goddessnessness ness, Cordelia presents an interesting problem in the narrow confines of my tidy little uberchick-community.  In Earshot, she’s the only person who speaks her disgustingly-human mind without restraint, shame, edit or euphemism…and Buffy’s new telepathic ability makes Buffy (Ego) a psychological leper in her tightly-knit knot of hypocrites, who uniformly flee her company — except for Cordelia, who seems never to have met an unpleasant thought she didn’t express immediately, which calls directly back to Out of Mind, Out of Sight; to the soliloquy in which she candidly expresses her preference for being an isolated, ignored and unknown star at the gooey center of popular attention, offering up a fascinatingly paradoxical perspective on the universal human condition of agonizing isolation with relatively-acceptable options.  By the way, she’ll become that solitary star more literally, a few seasons later.  Ripper Giles is a living validation of the hope of redemption, while Angelus and Spike are unliving examples of that hopey principle.  Anyanka and Amy also, kinda.  And Wesley will shortly justify some small extension of our charity, because, well, what the Hecate.

So, for now, I’m dropping Cordelia into the Goddess pot of tetrunity, positing faith and reason as opposites to the fist of secrets (Buffy) and the slap of streaming insults (Cordelia), as the four-part manifestation of  Joss Whedon’s philosophy of human ecology/psychology/entomolgy.  And that makes Xander…?  Joss!, the Jimmy Olson of The Daily Hellmouth, the erratic/spurious chronicler and life-restoring resident fuck-up whose attentions and affections wobble from one cardinal female character to the next (serially and in peculiar combinations), forming a kind of eternal pyramid that’s mystically resistant to network cancellation, which Willow chooses to maintain in Sunnydale.  Nice Choices.  Cookie!

In the best of Cartesian worlds, Faith and Willow define a locus of points on the X-axis; Buffy and Cordelia are on the Y; while Zander/Joss lends canny and inane perspective from the semi-illiterary Z. 

I stink, therefore I am.  3D!

26 Dec 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Slaying Alias

The pilot episode of Alias presents a styilish whirlwind of information that shoots out at the audience like a torrent of unrelenting Cool from a gilded firehose.  It isn’t recognizably boring or flawed…until about 55 minutes into the episode, when Sydney Bristow races down a staircase in a public building with semi-automatic pistols blazing from her fists as she shoots the hinges off a fire door, then kicks the door down without breaking stride, while craftily and resourcefully continuing to elude her heavily-armed pursuers.  Bullshit!

There are a couple of glaring flaws in the scenario I just described: 

Doors leading into stairwells open into stairwells  (since the Triangle Shirtwaiste Factory Fire of 1911).  Kicking down a door from the stairwell side — even if the hinges were magically removed or shot away — could not permit you to pass fluidly through to the floor below.  The door would have to fall into the stairwell side of the opening.  (Disbelievers should consult the Uniform Building Code, or explore a stairwell door in any office building).  The absurdity of Sydney’s solution to the door problem completely prevented me from wanting to give a crap about the stylishly presented whirlwind of information (largely exposition) spewing from the Alias firehose.  More-or-less unfortunately, the bulk of Season 1 awaits me this Christmas holiday weekend before I can send the DVDs back to NetFlix.  Alias watching is taxing.  Lots of television and movies isn’t Show Business at all, it’s Tell Business.

The other flaw, apart from the door problem (that would have gummed up Sydney’s fast-paced, fluid escape from her pursuers), is that hinges on a closed firedoor don’t sit flush on the surface of the frame to be shot away (like a corral gate), they’re recessed into the reveal at the hinge-side of the frame; so a handheld disintegrator pistol from some episode of Star Trek might eliminate all three hinges swiftly, but the configuration of the frame (its stops) would still prevent the door from falling in the desired direction.  I stumbled over a stupid trick that prioritized storytelling style over substance.  I don’t want to look more closely for subtler cheats.  Alias is slimy-slick and interesting, but taxing.

Alias, on the strength of this otherwise insignificant moment in the pilot episode, doesn’t bother to earn the respect that’s absolutely necessary for this audience-member to bother following its rapid-fire permutations of narrative.  Buffy does.

Xander, in an episode I just passed through (The Wish, I think), at one point bars the entry of a mob of Xander-loving girls through the paired opening to the school library.  He pushes a heavy card-catalogue-desk up against both doors.  Moments later, Giles pulls open the active door from the corridor side, and enters the library.  It’s a tactical error in barricade-maunfacture that Xander makes quite frequently.  And it’s exactly the kind of pointless, swashbuckling actionism that underscores comedic flaws in his intermittenly-manly yet deeply heroic and intolerant character.  These flaws in Xander’s self-image naturally flow into his final confrontation with Jack O’Toole near the end of The Zeppo, when Xander’s (not particularly manly) capacity for self-sacrifice undercuts the dead bully’s lust for self-preservation (ironic).  Cowed, O’Toole defuses the bomb.  Xander leaves the boiler room triumphant.  O’Toole mutters a promise to make Xander’s life a living hell, as Oz, in the form of a werewolf, bursts into the boiler room to re-kill and devour O’Toole, which explains why Oz is “oddly full” the next day when Xander offers him snackfood.  Tidy.  Earned.  Fascinating attention to cohesive storytelling detail.

Doors, by the way, are far more wonderfully interesting machines than you probably think they are.  I’ll ramble on in this post for a while, but if the stuff I’m writing here leads you to explore any door of your choosing in minute detail (or two) I’m very happy to have been of some small service to you.

Joss sometimes speaks (in interviews and commentaries) of the inflence of True Believers on their social environments.  These scraps of information serve to shed particles of light on his use of True Believers as a force for ungood in Mutant Enemy stories, but gradually hypotheses form.  The Eliminati in Bad Girls are, for example, sword-wielding vampire warriors whose numbers decrease prodigiously because of their true belief in a bigbad pile of excrement who somehow inspires their unswerving alliegence, while barely lifting a finger.   I wish Joss would take the time necessary to define his use of industry terms more clearly; moments, beat, moves, earn, undercut…there are lots of them that don’t necessarily yield useful information when other people use or explain them.

Seemingly-heroic acts of terrible violence are perpetrated by dedicated followers of vengeance, mock-rebellion, nonsense, the whims of unprincipled leaders…these True Believers don’t get much respect from Whedon, who has them break store windows, sacrifice civilians, kill, mame, loot and destroy…usually under the cover of darkeness, various forms of flobotnam or simply out of deranged and misguided values.  These seeming-heroic acts of violence seem to fit into my view of his perspective on various forms of cowardice — unlike Angel’s surprising confession to Buffy in Amends that the demon within him is an insignificant threat to civilization compared to the weak and cowardly man he was even before the demon possessed him.  Human frailty, imperfection, and deep aspects of universal human character drive these stories.  Flobotnam is smoke that mirrors window-dressing.  Sometimes a window is a mirror that unites the viewer (rather than separating us from) the enactment of fantasy on the other side of it; quite often, when the fantasy is produced by Mutant Enemy.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t as good as it gets.  I mean, for example, that the “play-all” (episodes) option on Alias DVDs is vastly superior to the Buffy format (which requires lots of cursor movement and/or remote-control clicking and interminable waiting between episodes for the annoying bits of redundancy and loudness, to which I objected in the previous blogpost).  But the good stuff (narrative content) that flows from Buffy episodes is vastly more valuable to me personally than the stuff that flows from Alias, LOST, Fringe and Heroes, because it’s about stuff that interests me in the real world.  The other shows dwell on moral particulars that only exist in their own storyworlds.  Buffy’s writers use the embarassingly manifold flobotinous devices (of mystical instrumentality, incantation and possession) unabashedly to tell informative tales about real people’s real problems. 

Most fantastic television builds fanciful stories about apocryphal science (Fringe) or covert operations (Alias) or a bizarre array of contradictions that were never properly explored on Gilligan’s Island (LOST) about entertaining problems people don’t have — see Heroes for an endless litany of choices you’ll never have to make;

  • if I slip back in time to save my mother’s life, will I step on more history-changing butterflies than if I save my girlfriend’s life? or 
  • is confessing my invulnerability to yet another guy who can fly an aspect of my dysfunctional and marginalized identity? or
  • when does Heroes exceed the velocity of entertaining fun to become instructvely meaningful? 

It never, ever will.  That’s not its purpose.  It’s about commerce, like other forms of utilitarian pornography that don’t bother to earn the permanent respect of any audience by teaching us anything useful. 

Whedon’s fancies (in terms appropriate to David Milch) are meaningful and applicable to Murrow’s observation that television can teach.  For all the Byzantine complexities of the shows I’ve mentioned, and dozens of others, the lessons are rich in information about stylish presentation, the limits of fantasy in audience-engagement, mirth, manipulation and crafty storytelling, but Buffy’s my chosen channel of engagement with entertainment.  It’s less concerned with its smoke&mirrors than with helping me make sense of the real world:  And yet it strives a good deal harder than most television to preserve several coherent layers of narrative consistency internally, within its constructs; so that the doors of perception swing meaningfully, as though a rare respect for the expertise of below-the-line crew (and other Ordinary Americans [like the national and global audience]) were just as important to ethical storyelling as the inevitable high-profile showrunning bullshit. 

Whedon’s fanciful ideas about reality are instructive, as are those of David Milch  (e.g., the functional utility of the Miranda Warning, as practiced or taught by Bill Clark).

I’ve hours of the first season of Alias to wade through before I sleep again.  One of us will slay the other.  I plan on playing computer solitaire while cruising through the DVDs, so I’ll probably have nothing more to say about Alias…I hope not.

25 Dec 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

I Only Have Eyes for You

My favorite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer has, for years, been the eleventh of the first season, Out of Mind, Out of Sight.  I’m fond of the fundamental notion that people can be rendered invisible by the oxymoron of concentrated social negligence and focussed indifference, and then there’s Cordelia’s brief, casual, touching soliloquy in which she details the isolation from which she cowers, deep in the cover of her own cruel popularity.  Also the intriguing link between Sandollar Televison’s Marcy Ross and the bigbad Marcie Ross at the heart of this episode, which reminds me that Joss did (Toy Story) time at PIXAR long before Violet Parr appeared/disappeared in The Incredibles and the words in Marcie’s text at the end of the story require a pause-button to read John Lennon’s lyric.  This stuff was designed for broadcast, but was always meant to be revisited multiplatform.

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117970561.html?categoryid=14&cs=1

So there’s plenty to like in Out of Mind, Out of Sight.  It remains my favorite sode, but close on its heels is I Only Have Eyes for You, which comes near the end of the second season to foreshadow the season finale showdown between Angel and Buffy by turning them into gender-role-reversed dolls playing out an unresolved script enacted by mismatched lovers forty years earlier (40 centuries?).  What appears to be a discrete, episodic, 43minute short story really isn’t, because it so greatly enriches, cures and flavors the contradictions that culminate in the season’s very-serial, un-reconcilable conclusion.  Meredith Salinger and John Hawkes bring impressive chops, and I always liked James Whitmore, Jr. (even when he’s only directing), and Marti Noxon’s some kind of branding touchstone for me.  (“Irreconcilable” is the wrong word.)

There’s also a thing involving the 50s that accentuates Mutant Enemy themes that always heighten the recognizable paradoxes of choice & consequence, appearance & reality, vengeance & redemption —  as though those things we had “yesterday” (standards) lend judgmental dimension to everything that plays out contemporaneously at the end of the 20th Century.  The Angel episode, Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been…wields that discrepency brilliantly, like an inescapable weapon.  By Out of Gas on Firefly, the scathing edge of backstory was so finely honed it isolated vital organs (of the riveted) absolutely imperceptibly…but the effect is nearly identical to the noir presentiment of inevitable surrender to an utterly distasteful fate; used car dealer(s) pimping junk, wooing Jayne into betrayal of his previous crew, Zoe’s contempt for Mal’s flying car, Wash contemplating modifications, Kaylee caught starkers in the backseat while she toils beneath the hood.  (I think that everybody in the 50s strove to appear adult and middle aged, which looked especially strange on us kids.) 

Recruising Buffy is a wonderful treat.  It’s like gazing through a telescope backward and looking for thematic similarities to show themselves in the context of DollhouseHorribleDriveWonderfallsFireflyAngelBuffyToystoryWaterworldSpeed and information gleaned from interviews.  It’s fun to keep revisiting a body of masterworks-in-progress.  Aspects that once seemed set-in-stone transform like treasured, moth-eaten butterflies because I bring a different set of stones on each successive pilgrimage.  (Veiled cathedral reference with a hint of gallows humor [masquerading as windows humor; because I don’t do gallows.])  I also don’t do emoticons with punctuation symbols; well, not here.

Interestingly, Mutant Enemy products are always about real life in ways that LOST and Heroes are not.  In fact, the entertainment values (that woo the crap out of an audience) often disguise the bedrock aptness of salient points, and only upon revisiting these stories do specific diagnoses and potential paths to remedy for universal human conditions become clearly visible behind the joys of clever language, layers of wit, knowing winks, cheesecake/beefcake, abundant humor and cool flobotnam.  They’re stories about people in remarkably familiar situations.  Not cinematic manipulations, not superpowers, not idiosyncracy and formulaic media-enabled nonsense.  Okay, less rote and manipulative than most popular shows built for more popular networks, but lots less locked into bait-making…with frequent revisits, the moves grow less novel, but the moments emerge like amendments to the viewer’s constitution…chief among which is the right to be wrong in every previous assessment.

If Hansel and Gretel are society, the breadcrumbs that lead them to permanent gifts of culture come from bakeries with familiar names that build strong imaginations 12 ways.  Mutant Enemy’s one of these.  They’re rare.  That’s all I’m saying.

Oh yeah, the downside:  I’d download all of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if I could afford to do so, to fix what’s wrong with the DVDs:

  1. Slow down the vitally-important credits so I can fucking read them.
  2. Drop the volume of the music that runs under credits.
  3. Make the volume of commentaries independantly variable.
  4. Always engage subtitles because the language in performance is often underarticulated, and at least as important to me as the extra-verbal interpretations of the actor(s).
  5. Edit out the terribly redundant “Into each generation…” speech that intrudes on the top of early episodes and usually leads directly into the same too-damned-loud credits-music that runs under titles. 

Point 4 deserves the additional note that Joss Whedon’s adventures in graphic novelty (X-Men, BtVS, Angel, SereniFly) have always suffered (in my opinion) from a devastating lack of continuity from panel-to-panel, as though the actors in his television shows were absolutely necessary to communicate the flow of context between moments that are storyboarded into a hell dimension devoid of coherence.  It’s WAY too easy to blame the illustrator/penciler, because this enthusiasm for Whedon-narrative led me to the graphic novels of Brian Kellar Vaughn, whose stories are wonderfully fluid when rendered by a handful of splendid collaborators.  So Point 4 is partly a criticism of young actors who generally speak/mumble their lines too quickly for my taste, and it’s a reminder that the success of a television showrunner doesn’t necessarily signify unqualified genius in every medium.   I won’t part with the bucks necessary for experimental editing of the intellectual property owned by 19th Century Fox Home Entertainment…yet.  There’s plenty of stuff I can fail to accomplish in the meanwhile.

I think our most valuable cultural endproducts reflect the contributions of collaborators more than we’re disposed to believe.  Auteurs, studios and expensive logos may be lightning rods for attention, but under-hyped people below the line-of-sight are probably more indicative of quality in the endproduct than the famous names that garner most of the attention.  So I want to see credits clearly and follow people like (for example) Jose Molina,whose work with Mutant Enemy led me to Castle, which also involves Nathan Fillion, but the lightning rod was Molina.  So I’m inclined to believe that modern storytelling (transmedia or whatever) is and has always been far more rooted in the complex relationships, skills and dedications of the armies of people who make them than the reputations of branded auteurs, studios and networks.   You follow the money.  I’m following the people.

I’m saying this entertainment stuff is

  • of people,
  • by people and
  • for people

…a whole lot more than it’s about business plans, MBAs, egomania and box office receipts.   And probably shall not perish from the earth when things (like the fortunes of media moguls) change.  Things do.

22 Dec 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Coraline

I found a lot to like last night in the iTunes rental of a very photogenic movie that reminded me of Buffy Summers taking up residence a the lip of another hellmouth.  A plucky, prickly, idiosyncratic,  female hero contradicts my sixty years of Dudly DoRight programming.  I like that kind of a lot; but upon reflection, this morning I’ve begun to see a certain resemblance in Coraline to the desperate American themes that flowed out of 9/11.

Coraline Jones’ dissatisfaction with intractable governance by her modern, negligent, (and wired) distracted parents leads her to explore a new domain in which more-attractive alternatives eventually reveal themselves to be an incontestible evil presence that threatens the security of her homeland.

Maybe I’m responding to the film with ingrained male chauvenist resentment for the subordination of maleness in a story that features three females in positions of preeminent power, and maybe it doesn’t matter.   The most intriguing consideration is that the source of evil in this movie receives no particle of sympathy, which reminds me of our president’s near-simultaneous Nobel acceptance speech in which the presence of absolute evil in the world justifies the inevitablity of war.  It’s a point of view that negates for me the attractive platitudes about hope and change that raised a contradiction into preeminent prominence.

I really liked the film, but I find the reality nauseating.

Not long ago, I mentioned an interest in learning more about India’s struggle for independence from Britain.  Unfortunately, I NetFlixed Lord Mountbatten:  The Last Viceroy as a DVD tele-remedy for my woeful ignorance.  It’s one tough slog for several reasons. 

Everybody speaks English in this 6hour presentation.  Nobody speaks American, and the various characterizations of famous and notorious personages weigh in with interminable passages of important exposition that’s more or less incomprehensible, while millions of Hindus and Muslims are busily wreaking profoundly irrational vengeance against one another and kicking the crap out of Sikhs.  The entire native populations of India come off as relative nutbags as the representatives of Britain appear to be ingenious, resourceful and steadfastly rational.  This is not the story I need to learn anything about the release from colonial bondage of a people engaged in the successful search for freedom (from the box of intellectual property confusion).  It’s, instead, the ideosyncratic tale of a landscape of victims, as far as the eye can see, and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is even worse, although the Le Carre interview in TTSS‘s special features is deeply and remarkably insightful with regard to the conscientous consequences of maintaining imperial dominion.

“Ideosyncratic” isn’t spelled correctly, but it says precisely what I mean; that an ideational agenda (supporting the benevolence of despotism) underlies the quirky and more-or-less entertaining recitation of docu/fantasy events that compose the theme of all three stories.  The idea at the root of that common agenda is that incarnate evil exists and must be violently opposed.

In Coraline, that evil is an older, desperately-loving and empty version of Coraline Jones.  In The Last Viceroy it’s an undefined age-old history of religious intolerance.  In Tinker…it’s duplicitous indifference in the imploding-vacuum consciences of our best&brightest undercover patriots.  But in all three stories, the villain is an interesting and familiar two-dimensional stereotype whose point-of-view is underrepresented, except as a terrible force that thwarts the good guys.  The good guys ultimately win, and the benevolent, confusing despotism of copyright law prevails.

Max comes closer than anything I’ve read or seen to a sympathetic demonstration the rationale of evil incarnate; self-interested opportunism.  That’s good enough, for now.

11 Dec 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

Narrative Perplexity

I’ve spent the past couple of days of this long Thanksgiving weekend streaming Heroes, courtesy of NetFlix.  The remainder of the afternoon will be whiled away with Volume 5, but there are a couple of things I’d like to mention before making the final drive toward the last several hours of plot reversals, adrenal effusions and bizarre surprises.

Richard Stallman’s paraphrasing of Stewart Brand’s pronouncement (that “…information wants to be free…”) starts with this:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.

–Brand

and goes here:

I believe that all generally useful information should be free. By ‘free’ I am not referring to price, but rather to the freedom to copy the information and to adapt it to one’s own uses… When information is generally useful, redistributing it makes humanity wealthier no matter who is distributing and no matter who is receiving.

–Stallman

The Brand proposition attributes intent to data that people value, while the Stallman revision restates the original premise as a personal committment to people.  The difference is enormous, and Heroes manifests that disparity in the form of a contradiction.  (Many contradictions strike a precisely negotiated balance between extreme terms in continuum.)

Heroes is a television show that was born in the midst of media-industry transition from old-school TV to new.  It led a captive audience through a first season of exciting revelations concerning fictional characters that were designed to resemble our friends, our families, ourselves.  It did this by cleverly withholding thematic information selectively while supplying visceral thrills, moral questions and an intimations of overarching mystery, season after season…without ever actually satisfying the audience hunger to know why Heroes exists as a compelling, fictional metaphor for ordinary human existence.  And ultimately, it doesn’t.  As the seasons roll on and on, the thimblesful of insight into the human predicament afforded by this television show don’t adequately feed the appetite of the information-hungry audience it created.

Ordinary people are elevated in the fourth season to places of importance that rival the super-able stars of the show.  These ordinary people,  like Annie the anal roommate become grist for the mill of Heroes plot lines and kill themselves, are incinerated, disemboweled or are otherwise sacrificed to the penurious dispensation of truly-useful information that’s held tight to the bosoms of writers, while the audience’ attention turns elsewhere.

The barrage of visceral thrills, intriguing moral and intellectual issues, character studies and evolutions…don’t justify waiting around for four years for the persistent denial of service to the fascination that turned us on to Heroes in the first place.  What happens when several ordinary people discover special abilities in themselves?  Eventually the layers of perplexity surrounding a television show that asks that question loses its impatient audience to less ambitious questions…because Heroes doesn’t provide much information that’s particularly useful to (ordinary) people, let alone us real folks who aren’t een remotely ordinary. 

 Heroes hasn’t changed my life, and I don’t feel any wealthier, but do I find myself resenting its persistent refusal to service the premise that brought me to Heroes in the first place.  There’s a point at which narrative complexity gets lost in narrative perplexity.  Each of the seasons I’ve explored this weekend reaches that crisis by episode 5, when the Previously…On Heroes presents a ridiculously labyrinthine montage of memorable mysteries that always leads me to snort derisively at my stupidity in watching a show that promises to resolve straw-man mysteries it fabricates without ever resolving dick that’s truly meaningful beyond the fanciful confines of the show.  Heroes is about Heroes.  It’s bearing on real life is negligible compared to the investment of time and attention required to find it valuable weekly over several seasons, given that I’m having trouble staying interested in the course of a four-day weekend.

Jason Mittell’s landmark essay on Narrative Complexity needs rereading; the write environment DVD (featuring Joss Whedon and hosted by Jeffrey Berman) arrived in the mail yesterday, along with the Whedon/Jones Dr. Horrible prequel comic; Tim Minear on Breaking the Story and Joss’ remarks in The Master at Play…these things offer greater promise of deeper satisfactions between now and Monday than the balance of  Heroes episodes remaining before me in Volume 5 of Season 4; a perplexing numbering system, too.

“My favorite procrastination is working on the sequel of the work I haven’t finished.”

— Joss Whedon to Jeffery Berman for The Write Environment

http://thewriteenvironment.blogspot.com/

28 Nov 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

A Matter of Life and Death

I’ve been cruising The Archers’ films because they’ve slipped way under my radar forever.  A Matter of Life and Death is a remarkable film on every level, but I’ll touch on only a few of the points that strike me as unusually clever, after making this single reference to the astonishing ability of these filmmakers to build even the simplest premise into a deeply moving, visceral experience that’s worlds of complexity apart from, yet very like I Know Where I’m Going!

The film opens in the midst of the cosmos with narration that gradually turns our attention to night on Earth, driving us slowly into a story that begins from an objective vantage very high over the English Channel and glides us into the belly of a severely wounded WWII British bomber; panning past the vacant cockpit as David Niven’s voice cheerily explains his dire situation to someone pleasantly female at the other end of his radio connection.  Eventually Niven, the pilot, makes his appearance visual, wearily slouched beside the body of his dead friend, Bob, as he draws the noose of this very tense tale taut around the neck of these first few minutes, with technicolor flames licking boldly past new windows blown in the fuselage while he’s facing the tail of the plane.  Then he jumps through a port in the floor of the burning aircraft, into the foggy night from an indeterminate altitude, prefering to drown, not fry.  No parachute.  Terse.  Abrupt.  Laconic.  Poetic and cool!

All through this opening sequence, Niven varies his tone around the theme which his variations circle like giddy vultures in a kind of intoxicating gallows-cockiness, as he falls in love with the American girl who’s sharing his very last words.  I found myself thrilling to the realization that the pilot was flying blind on autopilot, having lost his battle to save Bob’s life, he strikes up a final conversation with the nearest airfield, and gently passes a message for is mother into the shell-like ear of a real nice girl, before hurling himself into the abyss. 

The kicker is that he survives the fall, meets the girl on her way home from work, and that still leaves unspoiled about 80 minutes of this darkly beautiful and deeply enthralling film.

Ian Christie’s commentary is informative and reverent, pointing to the Archers’ intent to soothe tattered British-American relations at war’s end by putting the Empire on show-trial for crimes against the races of the world, with no less formidable an American prosecutor than the fearsome and fiery Raymond Massey demanding the life of this aviator, who stands in for the British Empire, but then, so does his plane.

Christie mentions the initial critical disfavor for the inappropriate denunciation of Britain that’s neatly articulated in the climactic scenes of this so-called “dated” film.  I’m amazed at the eloquent intelligence that an utterly (self)righteous American levels at England, as every scathing accusation he hurls fits post-1945 America at least as well as it fits Imperial Britain since the Battle of Cadiz, and even more especially well since 9/11.

Apart from (or in addition to) the bittersweet political irony, A Matter of Life and Death magically found its way into my gut and squeezed before it twisted; very much in keeping with the powerful emotional experience I found in I Know Where I’m Going!  Black Narcissus and Peeping Tom…not so much, but there’s plenty more of Powell and Pressburger, so I too know where I’m going; straight to Helen Mirren (40 gorgeous years ago), Colonel Blimp and Canterbury.  

FoE4 is a good deal glitchier than I’d ever imagined it would be — podcasts next week, if the good lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.  Like I said, glitchy.

19 Nov 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

A Boil to Lance

I spent the end of last week with two of Lance Weiler’s films, The Last Broadcast and Head Trauma.  No spoilers, nor plot-recitation here, but I’ve been thinking about a couple of points of reference in two transmedia horror-mysteries made with the very-direct involvement of a pillar of the transmedia community.

At the heart of both films, a deeply buried injustice leads to two different approaches to telling a mystery story: 

In The Last Broadcast, a character named David Lee is making a film about a multiple-murder involving the two hosts of a cheesy, cable-access television show called Fact or Fiction.  Lee’s process of telling the story frames a succession of concentric frames around the story-within-a-story-within-a-story…and each of those frames is distorted by the dissonant agendas of each of the successive, objective storytellers who’s controlling the frame of the story-telling.  The most obvious of these agendas belongs to the unseen team of prosecutors who hire a disinterested video editor who they charge to bolster their case with a rhetorical video argument that hangs responsibility for the murders on the defendant of their flimsy, circumstantial case. 

But (almost) each of the several storytellers interviewed in the course of David Lee’s documentary filters, edits, and distorts information to redefine and scramble the pilosophical opposition of fact and fiction.  It’s a fascinating film on numerous levels, some of which exceed the confines of internal narrative by leaching into the processes of making a digital film, distributing it independently and outside the parameters defined by conventional practice, and exhibiting at Cannes.  Go define “success”.

Head Trauma elevates guilt to the status of a central character, whose crucial influence throughout the film leads to a very Weiler-y notion (as the story ends with the protagonist’s next-door-neighbor drawing images in his bedroom that suggest that) the connections between people may be more substantial, valid and influential than we’re inclined to attribute to reality; more important than stuff that fits in our philosophies, Horatio.  The viewer’s imagination lingers on the possibility that Julian’s friendship with George just might demonstrate the faith that no man is an island of isolation, that responsibility for an old injustice is most mysteriously shared.

I wouldn’t dare to deem these metaphysical themes beyond the reach of a filmmaker whose defiance of convention, established practices and teams of influential naysayers has already made history.  Whether Julian Thompson shows up as a sequel-character in another of  Weiler’s films matters a whole lot less than that Lance is making films that boil furiously beneath the surface, depict in narrative cinema and in cinematic practice the minority belief that the processes of making connections between people are significantly more important than the product.

12 Nov 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment

State of Play

Every character appearing in this 6episode BBC television series is a traitor.  And the greater the interval each character spends on screen is the rough index of exactly how complete, complex and intricate is the betrayal of  each one’s nexus of conflicted faiths.

One interesting and inevitable difference between the series and the movie resides in the difference between 127 minutes and slightly more than 300, but the television version is vastly more sophisticated and interesting because it questions practically everything in which the audience places its confidence, including the blameless innocence of the television audience that relishes celebrity scandal, corruption in high office, and juicy stories that betoken the fall of comercialized journalism into the valley of the shadow of Internet.

Both stories center on the strenuous intelligence efforts of crusading journalists to dig ever deeper through layers of misleading lies while ferretting out Absolute Truth.  The American version keeps the protagonists (mostly Russel Crowe) reasonably pristine and admirable as he fearlessly plunges into the corrupting fusion of Big Business with Big Government that’s localized, crystalized and focused on a personal story to which he’s intimately tied through friendship, personal history and covetous, romantic aspiration — Big Media’s also complicit, by the way.

The American version whitewashes the protagonist for an NC17 audience that doesn’t really need to know about the British version of Cal McCaffery’s realized erotic liaison with his former best friend’s wife and the innumerable instances in which he lies to practically everybody with whom he comes in contact (recording conversations, bluffing to achieve advantage, betraying every confidence and in the process resigning himself from a personal life) while chasing the tail of a really Big Story, as though they don’t always shoot the messenger, because they always do.

All of the people in the British version are versions of Dominic Foy, deceitful, comedic tool and moderately-competent intermediary for deceitful Higher Powers.  The public face of decency, particularly in Foy, is always a dubious cover for the increasingly obvious treacheries that teem beneath his twitchy exterior.  The transparencies of Dominic’s various poses make him the comic foil pushed by the crusading journalists, and pulled by the various aformentioned Higher Powers, to spill every last bit of his guts with a ridiculous reluctance that’s drawn out through the length of the series, and culminates in a pathetic symphony of bathos in which we clearly see ourselves.  The thing is that everyone else who appears in the series goes through the very same process of being compelled by external forces to spill the truths of their chosen melange of indiscretions.  That even applies to Sonia Baker, whose single, deliberate act of conscience results in her suicide/murder that gets the whole gigantic wrecking-ball started.

The tale of the unravelling of John Simm’s Cal McCaffery takes upwards of 300 minutes to tell, but it procedes with a dark and ominous inevitablility that dwarfs the crises of conscience illustrated by Russel Crowe.

The state of the art of double-dealing is exquisitely rendered in the longform version of State of Play (which concludes without a conspicuous, resounding thunderclap of private resolution), although I very much enjoyed the movie version that offers a shred of hope of redemption for a world that’s now run by…(wait for it, Dominic)…my everloving peers.

07 Nov 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Transmedia As Pretext

Transmedia storytelling, as defined by Henry Jenkins in his 2006 book Convergence Culture, is storytelling across multiple forms of media with each element making distinctive contributions to a viewer/user/player’s understanding of the story world. By using different media formats, it attempts to create “entrypoints” through which consumers can become immersed in a story world. The aim of this immersion is decentralized authorship, or transmedial play as defined by Stephen Dinehart in his 2006 transmedia thesis project “Journey of Jin” at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

There are two prominent factors driving the growth of transmedia storytelling. The first is the proliferation of new media forms like video games, the internet, and mobile platforms and the demand for content in each. The second is an economic incentive for media creators to lower production costs by sharing assets. Transmedia storytelling often uses the principle of hypersociability. Transmedia storytelling is also sometimes referred to as multi modality, referring to using multi-modal representations to convey a complex story through numerous media sources.

Transmedia Storyteller, Jeff Gomez, defines it as “the art of conveying messages themes or storylines to mass audiences through the artful and well planned use of multiple media platforms.” Jeff furthers this explanation stating the following: “Most of us flow naturally from one medium to the next. Unfortunately most of our content doesn’t. Instead the stories are repurposed and repeated. They do not extend the franchise nor do they build brand equity. With transmedia, each part of story is unique and plays to the strengths of the medium. The result is a new kind of narrative where story flows across each platform forming a rich narrative tapestry that manifests in an array of products and multiple revenue streams. The audience is both validated and celebrated for participating in the story world through the medium of their choice.”

I lifted those three paragraphs directly from Wikipedia in order to riff on “bible” as the name for the masterplanning document that ties together all of the various media that constitute the continguous, immersive storyworld of a gargantuan transmedia narrative.  I think “score” is a significantly better word for at least the following reasons:
1.  A bible is a holy book that is not meant to be modified by anybody but God.  Ask anybody at FOX News, the Jerusalem of divisiveness.

2.  The unifying basis for hypersocial behavior is significantly less important than the act of unification.

3.  The conductor of a symphony orchestra leads dozens of musicians (with the aid of a score which documents the intended sequence of performance for players who are engaged with a wide variety of instrumentalities across variations in key, meter, mode and ambiance) to invoke the wholehearted and selfless participation of an otherwise passive audience; from auteur to superconductor.

If the evolution of transmedia entertainment relies on a biblical metaphor it will probably neglect or underserve the contribution of the audience to change a narrative course that’s set in stone.  I think it’s significantly more visionary to regard the narrative as plastic, even dispensible, when the masterplan is introduced to the vagaries of audience participation; the urtext is only a pretext for hypersocial interaction.  Symphonic orchestras rarely encourage members of the audience to rise in the aisles for inspired choruses of air-guitar virtuosity, but that’s exactly the kind of participation transmedia entertainments are designed to facilitate and nurture…unless the bible metaphor persists, which makes this new media model especially vulnerable to mercenary exploitation, literalist misinterpretation and irrational stumbling blocks of Biblical proportions.

The two-hour video at the other end of this link:

http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/538

is introduced by Dr. David Thorburn who reappears 106minutes into the lively discussion with skeptical observations and invaluable advice about reinventing media.

01 Nov 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 6 Comments

Spinning Wheel

Jamie King (Steal This Movie) said that conversations about intellectual property commonly focus on fan appropriation of the holdings of corporations rather than the view that transnational conglomerates have colonized global information markets and preserve colonial rule through copyright law and other information management tools.

“We talk about intellectual property as if it was about the rights of small creators, whereas it’s far more, far more often the extension of colonial might across the whole world enforced through legal means…through these legal compacts.  And that’s something that’s never really recognized in these discussions, is that if you buy the idea that intellectual property is just about supporting your rights, in fact,  you’re buying into a system which is specifically and precisely a system of domination.  And quite a terrifying one.”

He cites the rumor that he’s especially famous in Brazil because Monsanto’s program to cultivate genetically modified soil terrifies some Brazilians who have limited access to information to gain global traction in any popular movement to oppose that program…except through those means advocated and authorized by Steal This Movie.

I think the now-familiar binary (that polarizes media-audiences and media-producers into pirates and moguls) simplifies this current period of transition excessively.  As the technological means to focus attention grow less exclusive and costly, signals of dissent will get out.  The challenge seems to be where else to look, how else to listen.

I think I need to know a LOT more about India’s liberation from colonial domination.  That seems like a more appropriate model of this period in the evolution of information than the usual vision of fans dressed up as Klingons versus cigar-chomping emperors of entertainment fiefdoms.

http://www.babelgum.com/browser.php#play/PLAYLIST,order:FEATURED/1,4002796

In case the link is useless, it’s meant to lead you to Bablegum; to a 32 minute Q&A in which MDot Strange, Timo Vuorensola, Jamie King, Lance Weiler and Arin Crumley answer questions from the audience at the (June 2009) Edinburgh International Film Festival conference panel moderated by Liz Rosenthal for Power to the Pixel.  Last week’s London BFI conference should soon be added to the Babelgum library.  Or there’s this alternative route:

http://powertothepixel.com/videos-london-2008

I guess I’m trying to say that the labels affixed to factions in this arena are profoundly misleading.  Producers, fans and critics, academics, masses and stakeholders aren’t as discrete and dissimilar as they used to be — the architects of transmedia entertainments are usually voracious fans of media whose work can be recognized as critical of what-they-love(d).  The hundred-days-strikers said we’re all in this together.  I think that wasn’t just a slogan, it’s becoming increasingly necessary as a means to enrich, enliven and liberate global culture from those who disagree.

The writers also said They get paid, We get paid.  I don’t think they were talking about attention, but an explosive expansion of the lexicon of attention (as the most legitimate medium of exchange) seems to be what’s called for first.

Kindly check this out:

http://springboardmedia.blogspot.com/

18 Oct 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

That Minbari Woman

Maybe it’s just a mirage of parallels, but I do see subtle similarities in the shape and scope and a couple of details that align That Hamilton Woman with the first four seasons of Babylon 5.

I inserted the film in my NetFlix queue to round-out the flow of disks in the mail and also to provide an overdue peek at Leigh and Olivier working together, apart from Fire Over England,  so I’d no expectation of Lord Nelson’s arrival at Naples as master of the Agamemnon, coincidentally, the name of John Sheridan’s command when he won The Battle of the Line at the end of the Earth-Minbari War.

According to the film, Nelson’s military career came to resemble that of a diplomat as the admiral’s predictions regarding Napoleon’s intent (global domination) were eventually recognized by the admiralty and Parliament as prescient.  The commentarian describes That Hamilton Woman as an overlooked jewel of an underfunded film largely because it was rushed into production to help draw America onto the side of the British in the run-up to World War II, so Nelson resembles Churchill in Korda’s film…and to my mind Sheridan resembles both of them as relatively ordinary military men coping with extra-ordinary diplomatic circumstances.  And Delenn and Lady Hamilton share divided loyalties, rising (or falling) from their comparatively straight and narrow paths to merge in the popular imagination with fascinating places in history.  And both of them were metamorphic changelings.

I don’t know that Joe Straczyinski would validate any of these allusions as his influences, but That Hamilton Woman is a remarkably interesting “propaganda” film in which instances of surprisingly astute visual imagery (shot in a rush on a shoestring — that really doesn’t show) bring history to life in the form of an allegory that remixes elements of mythstory brilliantly to serve contemporary audiences, and it probably always will — so long as we keep making dictators and people to oppose them.

The final episode of Season 4 is 90% pipe-laying and 50% bewilderment, but despite the confounding limitations of budget and seasonal continuity, Straczynski’s The Deconstruction of Falling Stars is a good deal more than a thrilling segment, it ties up more of the loosest ends of a 4year series than I imagined possible, while dropping the second shoe on the pedal and accelerating into a fifth season like an 11th hour stay of execution that requires the condemned to be exhumed.

Needless to say I’m looking forward to the arrival of the fifth season and to the several feature-length television films that round out the saga of this universe in which Nelson, Churchill, Hitler, Napoleon and Agamemnon all make interesting cameo appearances.  Maybe they’re all just a mirage of parallels, and then-again maybe there’s something constant in the human condition that makes Norman Corwin’s question intermittently answerable.

“What have we learned?”

I wonder if somewhere in America there’s a Truman’s Column in Hiroshima Square.  I hope it’s a rhetorical question.

04 Oct 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 3 Comments

Half in the Blog

Twenty-four fluid ounces of Corona is like a semianual (re)treat because I’ve never been much of a drinker, and I probably should have spent the morning meditating on The Unexpected, because pretty much every possible “t” has been dotted and every available “i”‘s been crossed since I set off this afternoon primed for Brown Pelicans and Forster’s Terns, and ultimately, kitesurfers (‘long about 1600) when the wind kicks up on a fairly glorious veryearly Autumn afternoon.

But like I said — The Unexpected — resulted in practically zero birds, zero wind, and by 1800, when I’d snagged an extralarge WomboCombo, along with the aforementioned mini-jug of Corona and who’d a thunk it?   Baklava! was sitting right there at the supergrocery.  So, arriving a casa, I hauled all my paraphernalia thither and picked up the mail, noting my NetFlix envelopes — which turned out to disinclude Babylon 5 Season 3 Disc 4.

I noted earlier in the afternoon that anything I happened to have that happeneds to have a strap on it got snarled or otherwise entangled on a windowcrank or a shiftlever or a whatnot shelf or an ashtray or any old thing kids make at sleepaway camp one waaaylongago Summer.  So I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that Babylon 5 Season 3 Disc 4 (apparently) involves missing episodes called Ship of
Tears
, Interlude and Examinations and War Without End Pt. 1 .  Tying into the WomboCombo, all 24 ounces of Corona and Babylon 5 Season 3 Disk 5, that is, War Without End Pt.2, I discovered that the temporal paradox that appeared in Season 1 (in which Sinclair was introduced to Zathras on the temporally intermittent Babylon 4) figured prominently into a plot that has me so thoroughly turned around that I’ve got no clue which way is up…but three muted cheers for the boneheaded folks from planet Minibar.

Undaunted, I’m downloading the three missing episodes from iTunes while blithering and giggling like a junkyard dog, but not without noting that Zathras is probably my hands-down favorite character, at par with Garibaldi and the more-recent renditions of Ivanova, because he’s looking around and spelunking in Babylon 4’s brown section for appropriate tools and materials to effect repairs on the White Star’s time machine and vocalizes each evaluation with a wholly unnecessary sentence that puts inappropriate tools in their places.  “Time is not short.  Time is infinite.  You are finite.  Zathras is finite…nice tool.  Won’t help.  Nice tool, though.”, and wonderful junk like that.

That’s 1.5 missing episodes presently downloaded since starting dinner and including this blithering.  I’ll be caught up in no time.  Is no time finite?

On a more serious note, the fair use exception to copyright restrictions, as outlined in a couple of places I’ll site when I’m less half in the bag, don’t even step in the general direction of the promotional defense of media scholars and educators lifting stills and clips for purposes of demonstration/illustration of principles taught to students.  And I don’t know why that is.  If the alliance of motion picture and television pimps (AMPTP) can claim in the course of a writer’s strike that the internet’s utility to networks and studios is under study and all web distribution is “promotional” (non-revenue producing), then I don’t understand why watercooler-conversations-on-steroids (moderated by media scholars and educators) is generally presumed to decrease the commercial value of the intellectual property of the corporations and individuals who own the IP.  Liken it to “buzz”, and demonstrate the utility to studios of introducing perenial loss-leaders to a brand new, innocent, nationwide audience of media students.  There’s no need to prove transformative whatever if teachers are helping these stingy bastards sell their shit.  No doubt I’ve missed some important legal point, and I’m also losing my buzz.

There goes the completion of the download of Interludes and Examinations, with a mere 48 minutes to the point at which I can begin to watch the start of the two-part temporal paradox episode (if I start watching Ship of Tears now, I’m only 96 minutes away from continuity with the episode that is now only 36 minutes from completing its download) that got me so confused that I knew exactly what to do.  This is me begging your pardon for wasting your infinite.

26 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Fidgetal Culture

http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/462

Dr. Thorburn’s intoductory remarks underline the arbitrary separations that:

  1. prejudicially divorce high and low culture from one another, and that
  2. make the future SEEM so different from the past that looking to  history for insight only happens in retrospect.

It’s probably accurate (enough) to say that digital technology/culture actually had a beginning, and that we’re presently ploughing though its middle.  If the end of folk and digital culture is written anywhere (other than the totally-suspect Book of Revelation) it spoils this entire season of metareality technovision.  Where this interesting, modern era fits in a halfassed, arbitrary category-system: comic, action/adventure or dramatic…? remains to be determined by somebody who jumps the gun by anticipating its end and defining the character of this age based on the arbitrary insertion of a delusional barrier.

“Modern” life is just like a massively-multiplayer ongoing television serial (for excellent reasons), and the showrunners’ identities are assigned retrospectively by wallflowers in subsequent eras, often for underscrutinized reasons.

Last night I caught a few minutes on television of a PBS documentary called The Sixties, in which a number of fascinating speculative conclusions were drawn, that:

  • The new&improved “less ruthless” Robert Kennedy’s presidential candidacy in 1968 was significantly shaped and tempered by the 1963 assassination of John Kennedy and Bobby’s literary introduction to Albert Camus.
  • The revolutionary movement in 1968 was global and thwarted in America by the murders of MLK and RFK, transforming boomers and our sympathizers from a generation dedicated to profound political and social change (back) into an enormous mass of addicted freaks who instantly became nostalgic for what might have been.
  • Had Richard Nixon refused to appear on LaughIn, his paper-thin 1968 victory over Hubert Humphrey might not have happened.  As though 40 years of conservative political dominance in America stems from vastly improved candidate marketing practices.  Half of that sounds to me like it’s absolutely true, but the other half sounds like an alibi.

This documentary was narrated by Peter Coyote, whose previously-discovered penchant (San Francisco is a city of seven square miles, and 24fps is Ed’s legacy) for mouthing intriguing nonsense leaves me less than confident in the speculative conclusions scripted by the documentarians.

I don’t have an insatiable appetite for the study of history, but the comforting appendices and soothing conclusions afforded by better students than me (and narrated by Peter Coyote) should facilitate a hunger for much closer inspection of arbitrarian rhetoric and a brand new lust for the constant discomfort and fidgeting of living culture; folk, digital, media, commercial, “modern”…because the fat lady’s singing is probably always going to be some arbitrarian’s hallucination.

25 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Possession and Duplicity

These are two contemporary films that pull in opposite directions: 

Duplicity is the complex, convoluted love story of a couple of awful shits reduced (by choice) to finding themselves so entirely unloveable that the only other person capable of fashioning a life together with them is an utterly untrustworthy mirrorimage of the covert-operations scumball each of them has become.

Possession brings together two young, jaded, malcontented, 2002 academics whose mutual interest in an illicit 19th Century liaison takes them from their stale complacency to the gradual discovery of an incandescent obsession that exceeds the tight, repressed, Victorian focus of their common interest into the bold adventure of shaking off their respective dreads and making a life together.

I disliked everybody in Duplicity (with the sole exception of the character portrayed by Tom Wilkinson) from start to finish.  That’s despite the fact that I admire the Gilroys tremendously for their ability to tell enormously complicated stories.

Neil Labute’s individual sensibilitites were far less evident to me in Lakeview Terrace, but his Possession commentary radiates a very deliberate, oldschool austerity that dwelt on the stillness of camera, emphasis on the actors’ conception of character, and the creation of a film bent on physical authenticity that leaves the audience knowing more about the narrative than the characters who lived it.

The difference between these two films is most evident as each concludes; with the comparatively staid academics utterly reborn and revitalized, and the shits beginning to realize how completely they got screwed. 

By the end of Possesson, Paltrow and Eckhard have exemplified and demonstrated a remarkable range of human imperfections, many of them unspoken, compassionate projections that replicate for the audience the process scholars (and audiences) employ in transforming negative capability into positively meaningful elements of universal, experiental art.

Roberts and Owen, conversely, bring a few persuasive speeches through to the end of their story that’s barely about the power of  their deeply disguised affections for one another, and mostly dedicated to the multiple whining engines of glorified self-interest that actually drive the film.  Duplicity adheres to The Great Man Theory of Everything if greatness is measured in degrees of harm.

These two films find the fork in The Conversation like a surveillance camera that eventually moves to follow action.  I prefer the choices Labute made that seem to be more conscious of the mental and emotional life of an audience scenting story than the Gilroy approach in Duplicity which was quilted from swatches of various timeframes to deliver an icy vision of people inclined to freezer-burn.  Not that the excellent performances needed thawing, it’s the original what-if premise that’s simply unbearably cold.

Years ago, I caught the first five minutes of the first episode of Babylon 5.  The gala, ambassadorial setting nearly made me puke.  Now, because of Henry Jenkins’ interview with J. Michael Straczynski, I’m taking another look, and impatiently awaiting NetFlix’ delivery of the remainder of Season 3.  It still isn’t much to look at, but the story is infinitely more engaging, complex and fascinating than a peek at the pilot betokened.

23 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Remedial Entertainment

Struggling to follow along with various discussions of transmedia entertainment, I’ve come to think of this inevitable trend as “remedial”. 

I was deeply surprised a few years ago to find, while participating in a couple of Firefly forums, that I was  rubbing virtual shoulders with profoundly conservative Browncoats, whose interpretations of the beloved text (we’d all studied scrupulously and thoroughly admired) reflected political views that were diametrically opposed to mine.  I was shocked that I’d never noticed that my unspoken assumptions about government, personal responsibility and junk like that weren’t shared by 100% of the Whedon-loving community.

A little research led to the realization that my reading of Whedon’s liberal intent onto the material was no more valid than the libertarian and reactionary readings of people I’ve always tended to visualize as rednecked mastercriminals.  Define evil.  Nope — try again.

The simple fact that a single property has the power to draw together wildly divergent audiences under a common banner is the primary reason I like to call this stuff remedial; it facilitates healing of the bleeding, hostile chasm that prevents adherents of opposed political agendas from talking to one another with good ol’ indispensible civility.

Remedial also applies, in another sense, to my personal history (in the 80s and 90s) of having dropped the habit of reading, going to movies, watching television, and feeling plugged into contemporary culture.  I was busy failing to teach myself to draw for 15 years, pretty much 16 hours/day.  So when I was loaned the Serenity DVD for a weekend in 2005, I (reluctantly but spontaneously) devoured the film four times that Saturday afternoon before racing out to Tower Records to buy myself a copy and snag the season of Firefly…which blasted open my perceptual doors to a great many unexpectable things and scads of additional “branded” purchases over the past few years.  “Branding” has absolutely nothing to do with the studio (20th) that owns the IP, nor the FOX network that botched&cancelled the 2002 broadcast presentation (my money’s on Sandy Grushow for that unforgivable series of blunders). 

Since 2005, I’ve been engaged in an autodidactic bonehead crash-course in media culture, trying to catch up (to the communal worldview of an audience and writer-director who’ve been paying attention to stuff I stopped watching for a couple of decades) by following some of the vaguest and most ill-concieved treads of association imaginable.  A comprehensive list here is impracticable, but among my most peculiar trains of thought are examples of deranged rumination that led me to see the operative as Paladin (in Have Gun – Will Travel) Season One, and Tom Whedon (father of Joss) has a few things to say in the special features of the DVD re-release of The Dick Cavett Show:  Comic Legends.  Although, looking for Reaver-spoor in Texas Ranch House is more wishful thinking than common sense.  I’d estimate 75 pounds of better choices amassed in the past four years.  I’ve even made a chart of the ideas I wanted to pursue across dozens of properties that have nothing to do with 20th nor FOX, except coincidentally.

The thing is that the casual loan of a DVD four years ago ignited in me a hunger I didn’t know I had, and the hunger still burns fairly brightly.  I didn’t know one could read by the light that hunger gives off.  So…long after “the death of print”, I’m reading more now in a week than I read throughout the 80s (except for three bewildered passes though The Photoshop v2.5 Bible, before I had a computer) and injecting annoyingly irrelevant remarks at Henry Jenkins blog:

http://henryjenkins.org/2009/09/the_aesthetics_of_transmedia_i_2.html

for example.  And even though I usually feel like a Special Ed student at the back of a class designed for the best&brightest pupils, the informality of my remedial education doesn’t seem to prevent me from participating, yet.  Perhaps it’s just a lack of common decency.

Early in Convergence Culture, Professor Jenkins differentiates communication platforms from media.  I suspect that the differences between these two closely-related phenomena are easily and frequently confused, and that that confusion impedes a clear understanding of the role the transmedia movement will play in healing a divided and mistrustful Union.

It’s just preliminary thinking on my part, but I think certain platforms effectively target particular communities. 

  • Radio (now often called audibooks at iTunes) is probably far more appealing to people who don’t see or don’t read than books and graphic novels are. 
  • Radio leaves a lot to be desired by the deaf as a means to communicate nuance. 
  • Silent films (in particular) with their frequent use of intersitial text, but all movies and television that condense exposition with printed verbiage don’t really keep illiterates optimally engaged — likewise, subtitles. 

The point of this (my exercise in transparent stupidity) is to suggest that transmedia (in this example, trans-platform) entertainment presents any one singlularly immersive world of engaging content from as many platforms as is feasible in order to attract to that media property the largest audience possible.  If I knew more than I do about videogames, I’d lump them in here, as well.

From this perspective, perhaps Bob Iger sanctioned Marvel to draw the nuclear family together again.  Pixar attracts everyone in the family to a seat under the Disney entertainment umbrella, except the leather-jacketed, disaffected rebel, who’d rather be out raising hell or clubbing than joining in family night at the multiplex.  Remedial entertainment from a vertically integrated, transnational conglomerate that’s hellbent, Buy’nLarge, on grabbing Up the attention of the entire family with wholesome family entertainment, whether they want the entire Disney-ethos package, or not.

On the subject of enumerating “platforms”, I’ll probably stay fairly fuzzy and confused until I can learn to differentiate traditional classroom education from other forms that strongly resemble it.  Stand-up comedy is often indistinguishable from modes employed by classroom teachers.  So I’ll pull out all the stops and stop blithering entirely, once I’ve suggested that remedial edutainment is desperately needed in the necessary evolution of the dying discipline of journalism, our government’s holiest and most-reviled limb.

…except for one more thing and that’s that X-Men Origins: Wolverine doesn’t just kick ass, it pulverizes it — and Lynn Collins brought all the juice to her role as Kayla Silverfox, Wolverine’s girlfriend, that came with her to Portia in The Merchant of Venice.  We’re talking bout the quality of mercy, here.  Vaporized it.  Jackman, Schreiber, Kitsch and Reynolds! Nobody phoned this one in.

18 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Random Harvest

This is an amAzingly moving film.  It’s built on ideas that groan beneath the incredibly awkward weight of

  • battle-induced amnesia,
  • lives that reboot in fugue-states, and
  • utterly unbelievably convenient conversations and coincidences that bear no relation anything other than plot devices. 

Despite these fatal flaws (and hosts of extremely idiosyncratic characters who advance the story one or two ticks and promptly disappear) this movie really rocks with relentless pace as it lunges through innumerble series of powerful emotional states…to leave me on one ear.

Greer Garson and Ronald Colman were exceptionally adept at spoken English, but far more importantly, each of them brought an invisible and tenacious grip to the clunky material that inflected their lines precisely to render completely authentic moments in synchronous concert.    They impart affective english that communicates spin to the bone.  This film is a wonderful, profoundly engaging testament to movie stars and radiant acting.

I have a quibble.  Colman’s shell-shocked amnesiac character appears a few moments into the film.  In light of more recent films I’ve seen lately, I wish he’d played Smith as though he were a consummate gentleman slowly recovering his lifelong composure from the inexpressible monster he’d discovered in himself at war.  Smith is played, instead, as the victim of external forces beyond his control and not as the author and audience of inescapable actions witnessed and perpetrated in the ungentlemanly theater of war. 

It’s a slight, but significant difference that would lend weight to the unintended violence he metes out to the women who will penetrate the fog of him later and repeatedly throughout the breadth of the film.  His fuzzy impressions of inestimable damage he’s done to those he’s loved are precisely correct, and the distance he preserves from everyone is neatly cloaked in the guise of an elegant, capable, kindly English gentleman.  Jekkyl/Hyde sans fantasy bullshit.

The film is laden with rich and insightful opportunities for Colman to have made the beast more recognizable within the scope of his character.  Lydia’s bad penny remark at the homecoming breakfast table, delivered exactly one hour into the film, is an ideal opportunity for Colman to have demonstrated the kind of rapier-like sardonic wit for which British intellectual aristocrats are very justly infamous.  Her self-interested, arrogant ignorance of the toll exacted of war veterans makes this moment eminently suited to the complex demonstration of Charles’ merely physical resemblance to the man who went to war and the enormity of experiential difference between the original and the returning prodigal.  Still, it’s only a quibble.

Kitty’s profound maturation is performed by an actress I don’t yet recognize, but the strained plausibility of her transformation from adolescent to knowing woman is remarkably exemplary of that self-same wonderful grasp of material exhibited by the leads.  The entire tale hinges on underspoken communications, like kilted Paula in her music hall dressing room exuberently inching her chair (and her super-abundance of LIFE) closer to the damaged Smith while flying past emotional stops that range across vast continuua.  It’s an unbelievably satisfying adventure, just watching these actors work far beyond the confinements of a groan-inducing, yet fascinating script. 

I enjoyed the daylights out of this one!

Don’t google Susan Peters if your heart is even a little bit brittle.  She’ll wreck you.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susan_Peters

05 Sep 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Oppenheimer

Smarter and more industrious folks than I am lead me to believe that the plan to detonate an atomic bomb above the unalerted Japanese city of Hiroshima was carefully devised because a more humane demonstration of overwhelming power might have failed miserably (with disastrous consequences to American military and political [not scientific] careers).

No prior warning was provided to anybody Japanese.  Civilians were commonly held to be every bit as hostile to American military action as were members of the Japanese military. 

The bomb was regarded as an unreliable means to persuade Japan to end the war; unreliable, because it might fail to explode and an humane warning would only serve the counterproductive purpose of calling attention to an American failure.

Civilian target.  No warning.  These choices were made to insure that American face would be saved if the demonstration of our power fizzled.  But the atomic device didn’t fizzle, it worked — and any pretensions of  our moral superiority were vaporized in each of the successful detonations at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  911 outrage loses luster in this context.

The American government’s race to beat the German government to the creation of unparalleled destructive power resulted in the obliteration of lots of Japanese lives because the Japanese people were known to be incredibly loyal to their government.  Loyalty…bad.

Ken Burns’ The War and the BBC’s Oppenheimer haven’t helped me to an understanding of the pleasure we Americans took on VJ Day.  Both presentations strive to be fair, but the information they present doesn’t (attempt to) disguise unfathomable atrocity, instead they spread before me entire feasts of nauseating wrongs, American and otherwise.

Perhaps a more strenuous course of investigation (following lines of research previously covered in these two productions) will yield reason for more comforting evaluation of these facts.  Comfort…good.

31 Aug 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Lakeview Terrace

It’s an OrdinaryAmerican movie (as opposed to a CostumedSuperHero movie) that provides compelling evidence that With Great Power and vested responsibility comes ample, sanctioned opportunity to totally Fuck. You. UP!  

Both kinds of the mythic figures we celebrate in films deserve a great deal of thought and scrutiny, particularly OrdinaryAmericans, who are at least as whimsical and fabricated as ConstumedSuperHeroes.  There are no Ordinary Americans.  We’re all peculiar, idiosyncratic and constitutionally disinclined to unanimity; from person to person and from one moment to the next we’re eminently disagreeable, even with ourselves.

Samuel L. Jackson’s centerpiece character flipflops absolutely brilliantly between several sets of solid, plausible, whole identities; veteran top-cop, over-the-top-cop, martinet dad, neighborhood Watchman, maniac, wronged mastercriminal, self-fulfilling prophecy and utterly irRegular Guy.  Someone should jack up the whole Academy while calling the Nice Police to make a polite, euphemistic report to the commissioner on the state of the art of empowering creeps and making them.

Black racism has never received the kind of attention it’s always deserved, and this film goes exactly there with amazingly layered grace, gyroscopic equilibrium and a taste for relentless shock that makes it a singularly interesting monster-movie about worst-nightmares that live right next door (to one another).  An incredibly slow reveal of the matter/anti-matter spike in the punch.

Neither Training Day nor Hancock spent any effort in tilling the treasury of dark and abominable emotional explosives that Lakeview Terrace thoroughly ploughs.  And it does so with a delicate sensitivity that Pacific Heights never found.  (Specific Whites was a more eloquent name for that part of my home town.)

Abel Turner is an iconic monster whose deeply disciplined, compartmentalized life has been gradually and willfully, heroically pulled back from the brink of a disaster (he helped create)…until THEY move in, and the tidy compartment-dividers evaporate as polarized stuff in this guy’s several lives (that should never ever mix) is finally brought together under deceptively-high pressure with living wires and ancient resentments.  When Abel falls, he indicts his brother, while staring us dead in our collective face. 

A Slight Digression:  Compartmentalized psychic activity tumbles out of the special features of Top Gun.  It’s a way of visualizing the diversified competencies of elite Naval aviators, who tend to be renaissance men whose mortality and talents are designed so they don’t overlap.  So Spielberg opens War of the Worlds by installing Maverick at the controls of a shipyard crane, seemingly illustrating a top gun’s fall from grace into the world of middle-aged failures.  That association yanked my attention right out of the later film by telling me that Spielberg is far removed from my reality in which crane operators are the pay/responsibility pinnacle of industrial production, everywhere in the world except Hollywood.  The cocky Cruise-control that Maverick exhibited twenty years ago has been replaced by a motorhead flake whose failed marriage, doomed kids and total control of his crane-cockpit is deeply Hollywood Surreal.  It still strikes as a dumb fixation in the minds of the Spielberg entourage, but the MaverickToRay=failure illustration put an abrupt end to my confidence in the film scant minutes into the movie, which made it extremely easy to see, thereafter, that the war of the worlds was waged between human generations and the Martians were just for sex appeal.  If I’d been Ray, Robbie would have been dead by the middle of the first reel, and Rachel was on the bubble.  These thoughts about War of the Worlds came up while I read a cool interpretive treatment of that film at mstrmnd.com.  Ending this digression now by pointing to the Martian tripods as though they carried cameras that targeted cameras. 

I streamed Lakeview Terrace, so I’m looking forward to the strong possibility of a commentary track to guide my further adventures in branded entertainment.  Not much credibility in studio logos, my brands are the names of writers, a few directors, and a limited number of onscreen interpreters of the ideas embedded in scripts:  Gilroy, Dobbs, Whedon, Scott, Tykwer, Jackson, Hoffman…guys (I’m sorry to see what certainly appears to be gender-bias in me) like that.

THREE DAYS LATER:  The DVD’s commentary track brings the director and lead actress forward to connect a few dots, like; Lakeview Terrace is the location in the San Fernando Valley where Rodney King played piñata for white, L.A. cops whose racebased, abusive brutality ignited black community violence (mostly against itself). 

That “seeing is believing” is a stupid motto is driven home early in the film, when Abel notices unfamiliar people moving into the vacated home next to his.  The black couple is slightly unusual in that the woman is considerably younger than her mate which probably raises the Turner hackles just as much as his powerlessness to screen the people who have just become his neighbors.  AND Able’s inital perception is soon proven to be deeply incorrect (not unlike eyewitness testimony) as his continuous scrutiny of the moving-in process reveals that the hired hand, a young, white man, is accompanied by his wife and her immaculately dressed father, which modifies the application of The Golden Rule to these newcomers, for both Abel and for the audience.  The shifting sands of context amplify the tension of making sense of details in the first few minutes of the film.

This introduction makes the very subtle point that Rodney King was not the world’s most sympathetic innocent brutalized by power-crazed maniacs for doing exactly nothing.  The film procedes to make the points that appearances can decieve the “objective” viewer, objectivity is mostly a self-delusion, preconceptions condition perceptual processes to an extent that can render them profoundly influential, subjective, ruinous.  These points apply to newsreel footage, eyewitness reportage and townhall meetings.

The success of this fascinating motion picture rests squarely on the mercurial talents of Samuel L. Jackson to confuse the preconceptions of his audience.  The deleted scenes lost valuable information concerning the careers of the married couple, which actually serves to humanize them by connecting the husband to an ostensibly altruistic corporation (not unlike Google) which firmly belives that newage retail corporations and mom&pop cornerstores can cohabit like friendly next-door neighbors.  The wife is trapped in an abusive relationship with her white, male philandering boss…a detail that sets the template for Abel’s confessional backstory in the friendly, neighborhood bar.  Adversarial differences in class, race and outlook come forward in the confessional scene.  They are not met with empathy, just that infinitely meaningless catchall abracadabra …”Whatever!”

The commentary and deleted scenes indicate that Will Smith, under other circumstances, might have taken Jackson’s role for himself.  Smith’s production company held the rights to the script — which was subjected to revision all the way to theatrical release.  Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson — I think Abel Turner was best-presented by the guy who took the role.  I also think the the film’s director and all of the secondary characters were significantly less in contact with the heart of the material than the actor who made it a revelatory and revolutionary advance in the further adventures of our national inability to get along with one another.

What might the Mattsons, the black&white couple, have done to deflect the point of Able Turner’s wrath?  Who might have prevented Iago from fabricating lethal conflict?  Why is the IMDb audience, reflected in several reviews, down on the end of Lakeview Terrace simply because of an irresolute ending?  I mean, that’s what Americans do, we move on to other topics without resolving anything, as though seeing were believing, as though problems go away the moment we stop watching them.  Abel’s irrational resentment is better explained than Iago’s vendetta against Othello.  These guys are not as rare as an optimistic view of humankind supposes, and films like Lakeview Terrace simply introduce the notion that catastrophic irrational resentment in the perfect, customized situation is lurking in every one of us in a nation that presumptuously thinks of itself as heroically “post-racist”.  Maybe we’re all just cameras, targeting one another; mirroring whatever.

http://www.salon.com/news/1998/03/13news.html/

and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rodney_King

and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakeview_Terrace

19 Aug 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Hancock

I think the authors of the script, Ngo and Gilligan, constructed an incredibly insightful blueprinted metaphor for the antithetical repulsion-continuum of Love/Power that was roundly overlooked by the folks who made the movie.  Charlize Theron, it seems to me, was the only above-the-line contributor who brought to the project a genuine sense of what the movie was doing in a picture dedicated to the annoying signature of Peter Berg, aka, CAPTAIN JIGGLE(cam).  I always like Will Smith.

The central conflict running deep in the film is the range of emotional and behavioral artifacts that accompany singular power versus those that come with intimacy.  Flowing from that deep and fundamental, antagonistic conversation are all the intricate subtextural elements that result in a film that opens with an hour-long view into the nihilistic existence of a pointless, alienated, derelict superhero whose loneliness in the second hour is redeemed by the discovery of his forgotten, immortal counterpoint.  The dynamic 180° switch is achieved with admirable wtf-abruptness, but the reveal of the supercouple filled my head with questions that remained unresolved while the film raced on at a new blistering pace to reach its own conclusion.  Sequel?

Remarks in the DVD’s special-features disk suggest that the interpersonal conflict of this immortal couple are now (and have always been) permanent, but nothing in the dialogue highlights irreconcilable differences, apart from Mary’s allegation that she is the more powerful of the two of them.  I think she believes that statement to be true because she chose to abandon her mate in Miami in 1928, while he (like a discarded puppy) eventually found his circuitous way back to her side.  I find that intimation fascinating because it goes to the heart of the intrapersonal polarity of proximal-intimate-vulnerability contrasted with remote-anonymous-immortality&singular power; not unlike superheroic blackburied Captains of Industry (moms&dads) who barely know their kids.

Oddly, there are previews on the special features disk for The International and Lakeview Terrace.  Having seen and enjoyed the former, I’ve queued the latter to find out whether Lakeview Terrace does a better job of treating intersexual race and the abuse of power.  Tom Tykwer’s made films I enjoy tremendously, and Handjobcock (like Dolores Claiborne) reaches deep into forbidden regions below the belt where it juggles our cultural balls and fumbles them slightly short of the goal that’s even (or FAR) more important than the particular story about which they’re told.  I lay responsibility for those fumbles on Taylor Hackford and Peter Berg.

In Hancock, Mary explains their immortal identities to amnesiac-John, “We’re gods, angels…now they call us superheroes…”.  I misunderstood her reading as,  “We’re God’s angels…”.  Without a copy of the script to make better sense of her vitally-important expository statement from written punctuation, I caught the theatrical release about six months ago and went with the second, theological reference.

 That’s exactly the kind of  confusion that’s directly attributable to the director/editor.  I went off on an utterly unnecessary tangent (involving Dogma, The Prophecy, Constantine, Devil’s Advocate…) because Peter Berg authorized an under-punctuated reading of God’s angels/gods…angels…Friday Night Lights is thrilling to me for reasons that sidestep the Peter Berg signature; Dekter-cam on steroids, sloppy diction, minced edits.  Hancock interrupts a ($91.10) liquor store hold-up in the second half of the film.  The bullet that penetrates his newly-vulnerable torso is whisked past by the camera in a way that confuses the reason for his registered consternation and the anatomical location of the wound, and an important moment that’s far more central to the story than Berg’s excessively-energetic camera moves.

Berg gravitates into material that fascinates me, but I think the projects he’s involved in suffer from his involvement in them.  He’s like John Hancock in the first half of the film.  It’s a tossup whether he’ll save the beached whale or scuttle the lovely ship.  Less Peter Berg PR is better.

Later:  Demeter is mentioned as one of Mary’s historic avatars.  It strikes me as almost self-evident that when Hancock is reintroduced in a custom-fitted black superhero suit, with caution-yellow piping and an eagle outline on the back…that Mary really should (as John’s bonded antitheses) get into the downtown knockdown-dragout with him in a classic, white, flowing ensemble.  They dressed her in black.  Red is the name of Hancock’s mortal antagonist, which suggests Jason Bateman’s motif really ought to be green (sustainable, life-promoting, freshly optimistic, yadada yadada yawn.)  Nobody in the audience needs a degree in classical literature to dress this movie’s most central characters in keeping with unsubtle mythological schemes, but while the filmmakers went to interesting extremes to think through (invisible) stuff like intricate decor-detail in the homes of the heroes, they kinda overlooked a few disturbing things.  Like Mary’s son, Aaron, practically disappears about 75% of the way into the film.  I’m not saying I missed him, but the offspring of  the divine EarthMother prototype and a quixotic, idealistic new-age public relations dynamo might have had SOME kind of mythic part to play in resolving his mother’s emotional dilemma.  Okay, maybe he wasn’t the product of immaculate conception…I’m just saying they made her an iconic soccer mom, then flushed her (son of man and god) kid down the cutting room toilet.  Mess with powerful archetypes, make a film with prescient vision.  Ya know?  You betcha! 

(I hope this Sarah Palin allusion makes sense to absolutely nobody real soon.)

Ngo’s idea is said to have spent years kicking around in development.  I think it could and should have been brought to the screen in a form that would have been infinitely more satisfying, especially to Dykstra.

Correction:  This is my fifth pass through the film, and I always forget that Mary is Aaron’s stepmother.  That invalidating fact smells like a duct taped patch that simply won’t stay glued.  I’m hopelessly stuck on the story they didn’t tell.  The film they made highlights sublime self-sacrifice and finds remarkable virtue in running away from love, like taking pride in your Monday morning commute back into the mouth hell…that puts bread on the table and the kids in boarding school.  It could also have been a whole lot worse.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hancock_(film)

If Redd Foxx made a catchphrase out of the threat to put one man’s head up another man’s ass, that would explain the choice to play the Sanford and Son theme through the moment when Hancock makes it happen.  If not, it’s a vaguely funny musical quote that’s mostly deeply sappy.

15 Aug 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

What If…

…Tolkien’s rings were all of the discrete entertainment platforms humankind finds precious, and the cinematic presentation of his trilogy represents the ultimate, inevitable, universal dissolution of proprietary claims on story-ideas and the physical manifestations that generate financial profit?  Is Mount Doom located in Santa Monica?  Does Henry Jenkins shave his feet?

Just a vagrant notion that arose from reading about the exploration of transmedia entertainment, here:

http://www.henryjenkins.org/index.html

intellectual property, here:

http://lessig.org/blog/2009/05/jeffersons_remix_of_augustines.html

and Lincoln’s “fire of invention” speech, here:

http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/discoveries.htm

13 Aug 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Get Milch?

Wally Holland leveled a charge at David Milch at the end of the Q&A that concluded the mic’d conversation between Milch and David Thorburn at MIT’s Bartos Hall a few years ago.  Holland’s accusation was remarkably bold for flinging down the gauntlet of feminist underrepresentation in NYPD Blue at someone Wally described as an iconic, personal hero.  He flung it, nonetheless, with considerable clarity, charity and a willingness to listen.  Surprisingly, David Milch responded seriously, charmingly, and without much hesitation, but by the end of a long and unsatisfying dissertation in recognition of  The Place of Woman in American Culture, Milch, with breathtaking humility concluded that his female characters in every series for which he’s credited are comparatively hushed relative to “monstrous” males like Benedetto, Kelly, Sipowicz, Simone, Swearengen, most notably.  Sissy Yost wasn’t even in the oven.

http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/383/

I’ve been cruising NYPD Blue again in preparation for Deadwood.  Jason Mittell’s recent devaluation of the latter series deserves rebuttal, whether or not I’m qualified to provide it.  Revisiting this series is a seminar in humility largely because the density of telegraphic, nuanced information delivered onscreen is amazing in its economy, and also because the depth of complexity in human situations is unbelievably understated.

http://justtv.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/picking-up-deadwood/#comments

I think the underserved Det. Jill Kirkendall character was most representative and resonant for me of Holland’s claim that David Milch hadn’t written women as rich, depraved and complex as his men.  This evening I caught Yes Sir, That’s My Baby (S4E6 of NYPD Blue) in which Kirkendall is introduced and brings a wealth of female and parental expertise to a potentiated shotgun wedding objection raised by the prospective, reluctant groom that eventually result (by the end of the episode [note Sipowicz’ and Simone’s standing ovation delivered in droll statistical references]) in Kirdendall’s discovery of a stolen newborn infant and an unreported mother-murder in behalf of an unattractive girl whose brother killed the mother and threatens a local lothario with mayhem if the lothario doesn’t do the right thing by the killer’s unlovely little sister, who is now saddled with the lothario’s theoretical kid.  That wasn’t even a simple sentence.  I felt I never saw enough of Kirkendall, but upon reflection, I feel complicit in the oversight.  She may not have been given as much screentime as other people in the squad, but my willingness and readiness to evaluate the packets of information entrusted to her was not commensurate with the gravity and immensity that was packed in the lines she read.  Somebody failed to greenlight NYPD Pink.  I have a share of responsibility and remorse for that failure to listen more attentively, turn on the subtitles, watch for subtext and, most importantly, think through every last one of these shows.  They roll on law and order, but they spin with an English that’s more humanely explicit, culturally relevant and humanly universal than what passes these days for journalism.

Detective Lesniak’s failures in romantic relationships take a long time to “fully” reveal themselves.  In the fullness of time, they manifest in conjunction with everyman James Martinez, casting fascinating light on the peculiarity of her neurotic bond with turmoil that began in an earlier season.  Det. Russell’s ability to function is complicated by her upbringing, attractiveness, alcoholism, sham, sincerity and her vulnerability.

It’s presently 03:51 on a working Tuesday morning.  For now, it’s got to be sufficient to say that I wasn’t ready for the dynamic complexity of Michelle Obama in 1997 (season four of NYPD Blue), and judging from the vapid press she’s receiving in 2009, neither was the entertainment market.  David Milch gave eloquent voice to male characters who broke the mold set by Ozzie Nelson.  I think the ear we lend to his women characters is still in the process of evolving, and that people will one day be utterly amazed at the understated, subversive clarity with which Donna Abandando, Gina Colon and Sylvia Costas brought unflatteringly complex reflections of a blindered culture to the sacramental crucible of the confessional, NYPD Blue, where circumstantial evidence may influence the investigation, but the motherload of information, conviction and remorse for personal choices rests solely on interpersonal truth as revealed in conversation.

08:20  Omar Little’s television debut preceded his appearance on The Wire because David Simon’s Ferdinand Hollie (played by Giancarlo Esposito) showed up in the 1-5 Precinct in Hollie and the Blowfish (S3E17 aired 26 March 1996), preceding The Corner and The Wire which spun award-winning tails (tuxedo) of Baltimore streets from cotton picked from executive (and audience) ears by NYPD Blue.

I admire Wally’s courage in asking an honest question, and Jason Mittell’s statement of an equivocal evaluative opinion (while polling peers regarding the range of opinions about Deadwood — something in that mindset smells of decay).  I wonder how many generations of study will be devoted to the works (and influence) of David Milch in fields at least as diverse as those utilizing Shakespeare.  And whether we’re going to get Milch sufficiently to effect constructive change in our individual belief systems, our collective moral and cultural infrastructure, our personal precincts.  I think that whatever vital (engaging or must-see) aspects of human life are deemed conspicuously missing from the works of David Milch should be sought beneath the cotton in the ears of his detractors.

There’s also this phenomenally detailed and strenuous description of the discipline that results in LiebfrauMilch:

http://theideaofthewriter.blogspot.com/

Six weeks later:  Detective Jill Kirkendall was portrayed by Andrea Thompson in NYPD Blue in 63(!) episodes from 1996-2000.  Thompson’s also worked quite steadily from 1986, a couple of seasons of Babylon 5…some of 24…through recent episodes of Heroes, according to IMDb.  If seasons 5- 12 of NYPD Blue are ever released on DVD, I’ll probably have a little more cockeyed stuff to say in this post that seemed reasonably well-informed and justified when I started writing it.  Now?…not even kinda.

04 Aug 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Niggles

Like a bad tooth or an unhealed wound, my attention tends to poke and prod absentmindedly at matters of minimal importance, like:

I disagree with a central dispute that eventually figures prominently in Finding Forrester, that “further” and “farther” are two similar terms that are used incorrectly by the antagonists in that film.  In the past couple of days I’ve read blogs and articles in which people used the expression,  “a step further”.  The intended, contextual meaning of the sentence doesn’t change much, but relative measures of distance or degree don’t inspire confidence in the speaker when the metaphors used are more reliant on corrupted common usage than on common sense.

Split infinitives are as ungrammatical as incorrectly-identified compound predicate nominatives that result in goofy sentences, like; The cops were ordered to brutally arrest Martha and I, but they released her and never Mirandized I.

“In the interest of brevity, it will be sufficent to say that…” has been abbreviated to, “Suffice to say”, which is the illegitimate cousin of, “That said…”, which usually stands in for a longer phrase, like, on the other hand, or any familiar expression that lends contrast to the author’s shifting tracks of contextual perspective in paragraphs readers attempt to follow.  (I know I’m probably far guiltier of confusing the crap out of readers than most people, but not for want of constantly striving to be succinct, transparent, precise and specific, while constrained by the interests of brevity.)

Early in Fog City Mavericks, Peter Coyote says that San Francisco is a city of seven square miles.  It’s actually forty-nine square miles, in a squarish shape that’s about seven miles on each of four sides.  I very much enjoyed the film, but stupid errors (that escape editorial notice all the way to the final cut) early in a presentation cast persistent suspicion on all subsequent declarations.  So I wonder whether there’s much truth in his fascinating statement that twenty-four frames per second is the standard on which cinema operates because Eadweard Muybridge experimented with twenty-four still cameras to prove that a horse can run without touching the ground.  ¹  (Ed’s Wikipedia page is open in another tab [because I hadn’t a ghost of a chance of spelling his name correctly without help] and I might as well check for the validity of the 24fps declaration of institutional rut-ocracy.)

I’ve generally stopped commenting at the blog of The Ad Contrarian.  I think his responses are limited to advertising industry professionals, but that may be the incorrect impression of my bruised ego.  The nearest I’ve come to a direct response from him came a few days ago when, in celebrating the blog’s second anniversary, he (among several other things) mentioned the annoying tendency of squids and ferrets to crop up in his blog-comments.  Squids, he explained, are anonymous sociopaths who say rude and obscene, irrelevant things.  Ferrets just snarl the threads of his blog posts by trumpeting some goofy alternative agenda, sans evidence, sans sense.  I’m a ferret because I’m neither an advertising industry professional nor (intentionally) a psychotic malevolence, although I do tend to blither.

The comment I made pertained to his post about his having visited the DeYoung Museum for the disappointing, current Tut exhibition.  Having (tacitly) appreciated his disrespect for the marketing scheme that stalled and herded too many jam-packed visitors through the claustrophobia-inducing venue and also barraged them with merchandizing opportunities…I understood his contempt for the team that will guage the success of their marketing scheme on the basis of profit rather than the enhancement of the customer-perceived value of the exhibition to (repeat) visitors.  And, in the interest of brevity, my comment neglected to mention my gratitude for his insight (where there’s smoke, there’s either fire or an important person’s butt), pinpointing instead the utter absence of his suggestions for improvement of the visitor experience that might result in recurrent visits by high-yield clientele, like him.  (I’ve learned that the high-yield, heavy-user market segment is the neglected conceptual target of his blog and hovers at the heart of every blog post — at least, theoretically).  I also tried to squeeze into my comment my personal distaste for branding practices (that seem to flock customers into a deeply-wrongheaded barnyard metaphor) and alluded to striking similarities between King Tut’s afterlife-roadshow and the seemingly-unending Michael Jackson funerary hysteria that might be the prelude to the birth of a dead-celebrities-traveling-exhibition industry.  The estates of celebrated artists, politicians and assorted media luminaries already live after them.  An afterlife exhibition industry might profoundly influence the career decisions of our living cultural icons, whose actual legacies might just impact culture constructively. The Final Cut concerns itself with life-cosmetics.  I think the redemptive, transformative power of our mortality to alter life is assiduously undercontemplated, but infinitely potentiated.  Is today a good day to die?  No wonder Little Big Man is still one of my favorite movies.  The question it asks, repeatedly and pointedly, remains perfectly relevant.

The shameful, disgraceful and disgusting aspects of marketing schemes that exploit the popular impulse to pay respect to Tut or Jackson or Lincoln don’t begin to invalidate the sincerity, the mystery, the power of that impulse.  And ferrets who see farther than the contemptuous tone of a blog post to ask for more insight from advertising industry professionals enroute to proposing the creation of a new industry that synthesizes the best aspects (as defined by high-minded contrarians) of showbusiness, mortuary science and the study of contemporary culture are probably more valuable ferrets than The Ad Contrarian’s pejorative label (for hunters) suggests.  Pardon me while I congratulate myself excessively.

Explaining this junk at Bob Hoffman’s blog seems likely to result in his erasure all of my previous comments — something he did recently to someone who disagreed with his post of a couple of weeks ago.

Like a bad tooth or an unhealed wound, these niggles need mention for exorcism.

¹ (Something Wiki this way comes)

In 1872, former Governor of California, Leland Stanford, a businessman and racehorse owner, had taken a position on a popularly-debated question of the day: whether all four of a horse’s hooves left the ground at the same time during a gallop. Stanford sided with this assertion, called “unsupported transit”, and took it upon himself to prove it scientifically. (Though legend also includes a wager of up to $25,000, there is no evidence of this.) Stanford sought out Muybridge and hired him to settle the question.  

To prove Stanford’s claim, Muybridge developed a scheme for instantaneous motion picture capture. Muybridge’s technology involved chemical formulas for photographic processing and an electrical trigger created by the chief engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, John D. Isaacs.

In 1877, Muybridge settled Stanford’s question with a single photographic negative showing Stanford’s racehorse Occident airborne in the midst of a gallop. This negative was lost, but it survives through woodcuts made at the time.

By 1878, spurred on by Stanford to expand the experiment, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion using a series of twenty-four cameras. The first experience successfully took place on June 11 with the press present. Muybridge used a series of 12 stereoscopic cameras, 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by one horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second. The cameras were arranged parallel to the track, with trip-wires attached to each camera shutter triggered by the horse’s hooves.

This series of photos, taken at what is now Stanford University or in Sacramento (there is some dispute as to the actual location), is called The Horse in Motion, and shows that the hooves do all leave the ground — although not with the legs fully extended forward and back, as contemporary illustrators tended to imagine, but rather at the moment when all the hooves are tucked under the horse as it switches from “pulling” from the front legs to “pushing” from the back legs.

Wikipedia sheds a little light on several interesting Muybridge-related ideas, but the 24fps tradition (the frame rate for talkies, not silent films) isn’t one of them.  Wikipedia led me to a fascinating Kevin Brownlow web-article that casts plenty of doubt on the scripted statements made in Peter Coyote’s narration.  Ed died in 1904, and the standard frame rate for making (and projecting) motion pictures evidently varied from 16-46fps.  I think Peter Coyote was given  an unbalanced load of cool-sounding nonsense and inspiring information to read.  I bought his credible delivery, and greatly enjoyed the film…but I wonder how deep those pockets of nonsense run.

http://www.cinemaweb.com/silentfilm/bookshelf/18_kb_2.htm

25 Jul 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 4 Comments

Friends Reunited

I lucked into a newish Dr. Who episode, broadcast locally this evening.  Its title refers to the appearance of a regular cast member from the previous generation of the series, Sarah, from 25 years ago.  It’s also an episode in which Anthony Stewart Head drops in to play an especially perfect bigbad in a role to which he brings vast reservoirs of talent, refinement and subtlety that were rarely the center of viewer attention as Buffy’s supportive Watcher.  It’s also just possible that Head’s command of his instrument has grown considerably in the past ten years.

So the Friends Reunited theme runs deep at several concentric levels throughout the interesting narrative that involves an alien invasion by a race that mirrors the British tradition of conquest&miscegenation that neatly summarizes the evolution of our shared and jealously-guarded dissimilar language, multinational heritage and perpetual discomfort with global domination&preservation.  It’s as though one can’t discriminate friends from rivals and enemies without a multi-volume programme.  And the emotional turmoil in the episode neatly mirrors the irony of an immortal TimeLord befriending mortal associates, relatively briefly, not unlike a serial murderer.  It’s a lovely set of ideas that would sit together remarkably uncomfortably if the pace of the show permitted them to do so.

One of several nifty notions popped out of the show and bit me; that as the brain is the physical organ that corresponds with mind, so the soul is the familiar part of a person that secretes (or pumps or generates) imagination.  I like the distinction, if only because intelligence and imagination seem more and more to me to be divergent vectors of individual and cultural health and wealth.  Just as stupidity and insanity are unrelated phenomena, intelligence and imagination appear fairly rarely in similar proportions in a single person.  These ideas are old friends I haven’t encountered recently, but they feel like significant contributors to the continuing conversation I’m courting concerning the nature of art as a mirror to culture fogged by current interpretations of intellectual property law, ‘n stuff.  It’s a very long conversation that’s obviously going to be locked in fermentation for a very considerable while, given the nauseating bouquet of this ridiculous paragraph.

On the Fourth of July, I attended a party with a couple I haven’t seen in 35 years.  It resulted in an 8-hour conversation, and the best Fourth of July I’ve enjoyed in decades.

Oddly, British people insist on spelling it “arse”, but they, generally, can barely pronounce the letter “r”, which makes the way they spell it relatively assinine.  Likewise, the way they pronounce “guard” led me to reconsider Earth as a prison on which our common and vaunted humanity is/was purposefully stranded to prevent contamination of the rest of the universe.  Guarded by a jealous and capricious guard against the inevitability that what we’ve done to this planet (landfills>methane>global warming, plastic infestation of the Pacific Ocean, rape/conquest/total war…) might migrate from the hells we always make to pristiner places elsewhere.  Guard’s country may just be ringed by metaphysical barbed wire we won’t even notice until we’ve sneaked the sliver of a toe outside it.  Going where no man has gone before may not be our destiny.  Maybe that’s women’s work.  Maybe we’re in quarantine until the insects go all uber alles on us.

It’s awfully pleasant to be reunited with friendly, old ideas that revitalize my sense of hope and change, because so very little in the increasingly wretched human condition is better than it was when I thought about these things previously; emphasis on the offal.

20 Jul 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Reader

It’s an odd film that repeatedly makes the point that what we do (or fail to do) in the course of our tiny lives, is infinitely more important (to something unnamed) than how we feel, what we say, and how we rationalize our insignificance in the awful sweep of our miniscule lives.  It makes this statement by opening the film exactly one scene before the movie ends and leaps between moments non-linearly that range from 1958 to 1995, with terribly imporant references to events that took place before the film begins and some that aren’t yet concluded (the NeoCon inspection of soul of Sonia Sotomayor, for one ongoing contemporary example).

That societies delude themselves with the belief that morality rules behavior is central to the contradiction that laws are far more responsible (officially) for the shape of a civilization, and that more-narrowly defined laws identify morally superior civilizations.  Thus, Hanna Schmitz and the other five guards allowed their three hundred prisoners to perish in the locked church that caught fire and burned in the midst of an allied bombing attack BECAUSE it was illegal for SS guards to release prisoners from confinement.  But that’s not the argument anybody presented to prevent the other five guards from being sentenced for complicity to murder, nor did anybody mention the broad legal brush used in Hitler’s Germany to generally absolve the German population of responsibility for life and death in thousands of camps nor Hannah Schmitz’ late-breaking sole indictment for three hundred particular murders.  We were only following (her) orders. Legal Justice isn’t only blind, it’s also deaf, smells bad, it’s unfeeling, and it is profoundly stupid.

There is a wry cynicism running through the film that allows the five guards to claim that Schmitz drafted the incineration report, which every one of them signed…and Hannah was, perhaps, the only closeted illiterate who ever wrote a detailed report in the whole of human history; more ashamed to confess her illiteracy than her legally sanctioned multiple-murder.  The only heroic aspect of this piece is the character flaw of suicidal self-interest, which is aggrandized beyond all recognition:  Moral SNAFU.  Gezundheidt!

Born in 1922, she joined the SS in 1933.  Michael Berg looked the same to me in 1958 (at 15) as in 1966.  Hannah’s obssessive/compulsive behavior  is understated everywhere in the film, and acts as the unspoken reason for her inability to unlock the doors of the church allowing chaotic prisoners to flee a nice, orderly fire.

These are oddly unbalanced inconsistencies in the way the story is told, that culminate in the righteous indignation of the sole surviving prisoner-survivor of the church fire, whose contempt for Michal Berg is just as unjust and misapplied as the immoral innocence/ignorance that abounded in Nazi Germany.  But the most unsupportable personal failure belongs to Michael Berg whose inability to tell the truth condemned Hannah to spend her final twenty years in prison.  He complied with a lie that cost the life of the first woman he’d ever loved.  I have no idea why he’d do that, but the cynical tone of the film states unimplicitly that the things we do and fail to do (like forgive) are infinitely more consequential than how we claim to feel about them.

This movie can’t have it both ways.  I respect the people who made it, and abhor the taste it leaves in my heart; justifying scapegoating, reconciled to apathy, comfortable with injustice, and content to paint the laws of human nature with the broadest of cynical brushes.

Soldier’s Girl and Johnny Got His Gun address these very same issues far more directly, and both films tear the audience to bits with far less pointless abandon.   War Made Easy, The International, Lord of War and Fog City Mavericks have taught me, belatedly, that humanity is the primary target of war on anything.  Modern warfare is increasingly waged on civilian populations.  Compliance with abhorent orders (and laws) and the banal procedures of abominable business-as-usual is personal self-abomination.   I already knew those things.

The Reader is a well-made film that raises ineffectualism and the vacuum left by atrophied humanity to new heights of artistic accomplishment in our collective worship of despair.  It meant to address war criminality from the perspective of the children of war criminals; children who come to recognize their parents’ sociopathology.  It doesn’t do that well enough.  The resulting film strikes a compromise between good and evil that arrived in theaters at a most propitious time to complement our renewed bewilderment at ongoing atrocities committed in the name of freedom, security and apple pie.

What would I do if three hundred women were burning alive in a church?  What would I do if the woman I’d loved were about to be burned for obeying an unjust law?  What would I do if license to waterboard suspects gave me free rein to terrorize terrorists?

Better!

25JUL09 — Second thoughts:

The Reader is largely a film about the dire consequences of failure to follow conscience.  It’s a study of the causes and results of inaction more frequently than is evident in a couple of viewings.  It’s a film that keeps growing on me; conversely,  A Time To Kill goes straight to the diametrically-opposite place, highlighting conscience over law, with several carefully-constructed windows of insight into various kinds of legal-system-cheats; NAACP prejudice, politically-motivated prosecutor conspiracy with Mississippi zeitgeist (and no 1996 spotlight on media-manipulation in the pre-911/post-OJ showtrial platform).  A Time To Kill is also overloaded with a ton of Hollywood cheats; an enormous cast of really-pretty actors, muttering, visual delights and carefully censored violence combined with incredibly-clunky stereotypes and powerful afterthrobs of feel-good confidence in a system that only works to perpetuate the glory of Hollywood endings.  It’s an extremely well-designed, subtly-didactic, propaganda film that is far less interesting to think back upon than was The Reader.

16 Jul 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Such A Paine

Thomas Paine, a renaissance man,  achieved a great many, varied and remarkable things in the course of his 72 year life/career.  I think it may be important to remember that he was born into a time and place in which whatever one’s father’s occupation was became the defining perimeter of the son’s universe.  Joseph Paine made corsets.  Thomas Paine is famous for saying that government (like the corset) is a necessary evil.

Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Ed McMahon; all three of these people were alive and kicking when this week began, and dead when the sun set last evening.  June 25, 1876 is the day that saw the end of the meteoric rise of Generalissimo George Armstrong Custer.  Exactly 123 years later, yesterday, three other stars had expired.  (Not quite as simple as ABC.)

There’s something (for me) that’s profoundly confusing in that the most celebrated and eulogized of these three newfound corpses belongs to a music man from (Gary, Indiana³) whose

1.  distaste for his self-image resulted in multiple corrective race-disguising cosmetic surgeries

2.  was repeatedly accused and permanently suspected of molesting or endangering children.

Farrah rode the breaking wave of 70s jiggle into the TV heroic-victim’s hall of fame:  Dead from anal cancer.  There are just too many obscene and irreverent associations to explain. 

Ed spent three decades warming Johnny’s bench, like a permanent vice-president whose ancestors claimed nobility:

Several of his ancestors, including the Marquis d’Equilly, also had long and distinguished military careers.

Patrice MacMahon, duc de Magenta was a Marshal of armies in France, serving under Napoleon III, and later President.

McMahon once asserted to Johnny Carson that mayonnaise was originally named MacMahonnaise in honor of this ancestor, referring to him as the Comte de MacMahon.   

In his autobiography, McMahon said that it was his father who told him of this relationship and he went on to suggest that he was not certain of the truth of the story.

— Thank you, Wikipedia.

There’s a governing corset of order, somewhere, into which my chaotic observations fit.  They feel to me as though they relate to Paine’s deist belief that constraints on the destiny of  persons (and nations) may be discussed by Divinity, but aren’t the result of intervention.  I plan on reading some Paine, but I’d really like a look at the document that spells out governance in the nation of Iran. 

President Ahmadinijad and its supreme leader continue to claim knowledge of liberty and freedom that’s superior to the way we practice them here.  When President Obama discusses Iranian governmental violence against dissenting citizens the Iranian leaders claim he’s intervening in their affairs, and liken him to Bush — while the American neoconservatives chastise him for not intervening enough — in behalf of inate human rights they roundly ignored while crushing suspected terrorist-infidels beneath the heel of 911.

Current events are bewildering.  These must be interesting times.

26 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Communication Breakdown

I just read an online article by Barbara Slavin in this morning’s Washington Times; EXCLUSIVE; U.S. contacted Iran’s ayatolla before election

At one level, it’s an interesting story about Obama’s letter of outreach to Khamenei, (conveyed by the Swiss ambassador  — because formal diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States don’t officially exist –) in which the Supreme Leader of Iran found doubletalk.

The intent of the mid-May letter (according to an Iranian with knowledge of the overture) was to present the prospect of “cooperation in regional and bilateral relations” and a resolution of the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. 

The letter was delivered about a month in advance of the disputed June 12th re-election of President Ahmadinejad; an election result that has led to massive, widespread Iranian citizen protest in the streets, the deaths of at least 17 protestors, and  “a violent crackdown on demonstrators by Iranian security forces.”

The letter isn’t quoted in the article, but Ayatollah Khamenei found both an Obama invitation to significant improvement in Iranian/American relations AND a threat that American agents in Iran would use the election-event as a pretext to incite the Iranian people to riot.  From his recent sermon:

“On the one hand, they [the Obama administration] write a letter to us to express their respect for the Islamic Republic and for re-establishment of ties, and on the other hand they make these remarks. Which one of these remarks are we supposed to believe? Inside the country, their agents were activated. Vandalism started. Sabotaging and setting fires on the streets started. Some shops were looted. They wanted to create chaos. Public security was violated. The violators are not the public or the supporters of the candidates. They are the ill-wishers, mercenaries and agents of the Western intelligence services and the Zionists.”

The primary story reads like a communications clusterfuck, but additionally, nearly all of the people Barbara Slavin interviewed wished to remain anonymous. 

Something (I don’t understand) must motivate  “a senior Obama administration official” to confirm the existence of the midMay letter, while refusing to confirm the possibility of a letter in response.

“Past U.S. efforts to engage Iran have foundered, in part because the overture was addressed to Iran’s president rather than the supreme leader. This was the case in the late 1990s when then-President Clinton wrote a letter to then-President Mohammed Khatami seeking cooperation against terrorism in the aftermath of a bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 Americans. The 1996 bombing at Khobar Towers, thought to have been committed by Iran-backed Saudi Shi’ites, took place before Mr. Khatami took office.”

Is it just me? 

The history of Iran/U.S. failures to communicate seem to suggest special effort be invested in doing better.  While it may not be entirely relevant, I think there also needs to be a dialing-down of the number of  anonymous sources, unconfirmed reports and unaccountable, semi-transparent leaks of meaningful information that dribbles out of journalism.

If the press can still perform its function (as the fourth [and most citizen-informative] branch of government) the transparency and accountability of news stories seems in desperate need of profound refurbishment. 

For starters, I’d really like the Obama administration to invite the press to hold their anonymous sources to a significantly higher standard of responsibility for information leaked to journalists.  If the information imparted is valuable, then the reasons to obscure identities, protect careers and cover vulnerable butts suggest that a fundamental improvement in the laws governing the exchange of inside information have to be Target One enroute to a meaningful exercise in governmental transparency and accountability.  Unscrupulous journalism and coercive interrogation very vaguely define similar practices.  I think the restoration of the American democracy requires important repairs to the ways we gather and distribute information necessary to properly-informed voters.

Just to drop the other shoe (in a well that might be bottomless):

 

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, said the Obama administration would do better to “avoid any talk of engagement” with Iran until the outcome of the current political ferment is clearer.  The fact is, we will by necessity engage, but not at the moment,” he said. “I don’t think we want to suggest it will be business as usual, regardless of the outcome” of the political struggle in Iran.”

Patrick Clawson, an Iran specialist at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Mr. Obama’s tougher remarks on Tuesday showed that he understands that “the prospects for a successful engagement are declining.”

 The article ends with the portentous remarks of people who went on record.  I think that’s a nifty step in an appropriate direction. 

The thing is, that I have no proof that the Ayatollah is definitively incorrect in his professed belief that American covert agents initiated these protests. 

We’ve entered an age in which faith in the lowest, meanest, most-unethical practices of adversaries is to be expected.  Likewise, my faith in government functionaries and the journalists who interview them needs to be refreshed.

24 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Woh Play

There’s a powerful point of resolution that comes late in Dead Again that dropped my jaw and drew from me the heartfelt and totally appropriate exclamation, “Whoa!”  You’ll know the climax I’m talking about if and when you see the film.  The urge to discuss this film to death, though extremely tempting, would be sinful.  It’s sufficient to say that the exclamation I made took my thoughts in a new direction — to a form of theatrical presentation with which I’m utterly unfamiliar; the Noh play.

Wikipedia hasn’t been particularly helpful to me in knitting conjectural threads together, but my sense of wonderful resonanace persists in the performances of a largely classically-trained British cast in interpreting and rendering an obviously-traditional American noir (reboot), set in LA, re-envisioned via the magnifying glass of a deeply alien theatrical culture.  The result is downright stunning. 

Branagh’s commentary illuminates in-jokes, conceits and allusions to previous noir practitioners; Welles, Hitchcock, Wilder…but failed to mention Preston Sturges, whose Unfaithfully Yours it nearly mirrors in a number of interesting particulars.  Neither does he mention the reincarnation of the Strauss mansion in the form of St. Audrey’s, nor the prevalence of music in driving action forward as though Dead Again were a curious kind of musical horror/noir/romance with veins of brutal and subtle humor that curdle the blood while delighting the mind.  The anklet in Double Indemnity.  Authentic LA geography.  Andy Garcia, Robin Williams, Campbell Scott stealing scenes in two-bit parts from some of the most-accomplished yespian transplants who ever learned to talk like ‘mericans with the aid of a dialect coach and tapes.  Vertical bars on the gate to melody, and the muffled screams of disharmony link Bird to Agincourt and Lush Life to To Be…or not.  It’s the moments rather than the moves that matter, and this film brings a ton of fascinating moments, choices and visual mapestry to moments from before it and since, sealed with the curse of a (writer’s block) kiss.  Woh!

Charles Laughton’s direction of Night of the Hunter brings Robert Mitchum’s left and right hands together in the rapidly-escalating Dead Again narrative in the form of two gloves that seem to be intent on delivering Emma Thompson from the mystery-resolution revealed through the mesmerizing grip of a kindly benevolence  whose BBC remake of The Epic That Never Was echoes in the immensity of Dead Again‘s transAtlantic and transcontinental, interdisciplinary remix of LA noir splendor-bending.  It’s a moment in which the viewer comes THIS CLOSE to losing all hope of a satisfying denouement.

This film is a far more remarkably adventurous achievement than The Lady in the Lake, specifically because it successfully integrates (with uncommon clarity) a vastly wider spectrum of human entertainment-experience(s) into a 107minute romp through challenging material that results in a film that’s bent on delighting and astonishing an audience that yawns at special effects,  yet cannot anticipate where Dead Again‘s headed.  I suspect it will bear up under repeated scrutinies in the same way that Chandler reads and re-reads; fruitfully, every time.  Toland collaborated with Welles in making a film that Welles didn’t know was impossible to make without breaking a number of rules (with which Welles was unfamiliar).  Toland came for the impossible eggs and stayed on to rewrite the rulebook.

I wish the dolly-camera 360° oner had culminated (in Emma’s hypnotic regression scene) by climbing through her left cornea in the same way that Sturges stepped into Rex Harrison’s retinal reality in Unfaithfully YoursDead Again (1991) is a fascinating film that I look eagerly forward to studying a third time while engaging with the second commentary.  I suspect this film was profoundly influential in inspiring and greenlighting a wealth of derivative productions (most of which I missed) like The Sixth Sense and Raines, along with the fifth and sixth seasons of Angel.  It’s another shining example of the stuff we’re calling New Media; synergizing entertainments founded on gigantic nuggets of cultural wealth that litter the paths-not-traveled-by in literature, theater, cinema and television.  If Branagh undertook Chandler, I’d wear bells.

Woh!

The second commentary intensifies my sense of loss for the many missing elements that would have made the theatrical release of this film a significantly crappier movie.  I ran through a number of IMDb reviews, noticing that many people hated or loved the film largely because of Branagh or Tompson, and that apart from that kind of preconception/bias, the remaining pans revolved around the expectation of a noir — which this film absolutely is and yet very often isn’t.  The film that was planned, shot and edited mercilessly into the final cut were three very different movies.  The commentaries note the sites of beautifully edited stumps where interesting sidebars and backstory limbs formerly hung, which puts Scott Frank high on my list of screenwriters whose work I’m going to explore gleefully.

07 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 2 Comments

Does this make my universe look big?

Max Tegmark was one of the eminent cosmologists interviewed on a show I caught in fragments yesterday morning.  The topic of the program concerned the size of the universe.  In that Tegmark was speaking from his office at MIT, he illustrated the evolution of popular conceptions about the immensity of the universe by starting with a brief description of the primitive worldview of Massachusetts Indians*, then ancient Greek, medieval, Age of Reason…eventually hitting Einstein’s worldview (circa 1905) and concluded with the blizzard of theories that vie for attention now.  Affable, engaging and down-to-earth, Max Tegmark and his capsule summary still managed to piss me off.  I think the Massachusetts Indians’ worldview was probably greatly underserved in the rush to discuss ever-greater physical and conceptual distances.

Tegmark and the other cosmologists seemed to me to be indicating that their work to determine the size of the universe is hampered by the limitations of cosmologist’s instruments; which can only observe the observable.  The void of space may be infinite, but stuff exploding into that emptiness is all the information observers are able to use to determine the immensity of the room in which stuff is flying outward.  Not until stuff hits a wall of the room (and starts coming back toward the observer) will it be clear that there are walls in a room.

That perception prevented me from paying much attention to the allusive descriptions of inflationary theory, multiverse explanation, parallel universe, alternate timeline…That stuff is about as interesting as JJ Abrams’ device of having Nero fiddle with vengeance on Spock while Romulus was consumed in its sun’s supernova:  An event that Spock probably prevented, in the biggest temporal pardox dilemma (in the Star Trek storyworld) since Shatner sacrificed Collins.

So the void may be infinite!  That’s where Tegmark, et. al., lost my interest.  And I found myself wondering whether the information-gathering instruments have any effect on the void.  What If massive radiotelescope arrays and powerful observatory instruments aimed at the heavens and seeking data do something interesting like…increase Earth’s gravity, intensify its Presence in the infinite Absence of the void?  And if mass and gravity identify the existence of Presence, perhaps intelligent Presence modifies mass and density in ways of which we’d be unaware (simply because we can’t look outward to find evidence of inquisitive cosmologists anywhere else in the observable universe).

If gravity is an earmark of the existence of mass in the void, then the Presence of intelligence in or on some of that mass confers a slightly greater measure of respect on mass in the void, as a possible location where intelligence is (or may someday be) found.  I don’t know dick about the worldview of the Massachusetts Indians, but what little I know of the so-called animism of the Plains Indians suggests that their cosmology might be WAY-more interesting than contemporary doublegobbledy oozing out of MIT at the moment.

I come at this set of odd ideas from the singular experience of  standing in a lonely, boggy wetlands with the intent of photographing birds, striving to be a concentrated point of ideal stillness in the midst of landscaped, teeming life; and marvelling at the extent to which my Presence in that environment perturbs the natural flow of events.

What If a singularity is a center of information-gathering, where profoundly evolved cosmologists are so busily observing the known universe, that their pursuit of knowledge warps the very fabric of time and space?  I think that notion’s pretty cool because contemporary parlance dwells on phrases like “Information Economy”, “monetizing” this&that, and hasn’t yet focused on Attention, itself, as an invaluable phenomenon.

Getting butts in seats and eyeballs on screens is only the rudimentary beginning of science that goes as far beyond the physics of perception as animism goes beyond Inflationary Theory.  I’ve always hoped that the newest/softest science (psychology) would eventually find a way to accelerate exponentially the maturation of the hardest and oldest (astrophysics) beyond anthropocentric provincialism.  This just might be the means to that radical new beginning.

*from quaqua.org:

Native American tribes, some of whom were suffering from the onslaught of European diseases, also developed a hostile, violent, and deeply distrustful relationship with the Puritans. The Puritans abducted some of the Native Americans to ship to England. In 1633 a law was passed to require that Native Americans would only receive “allotments” and “plantations” if they “civilized” themselves by becoming Puritans and accepting English customs of agriculture and living:

For the settling of Indian title to lands in this jurisdiction is declared and ordered by this Court and authority thereof, that all the lands any of the Indians have in this jurisdiction have improved by subduing the same, they have a just right unto, according to that in Gen. I, 28, and Chapter IX, I, and Psalms CXV and 16, and for the civilizing and helping them forward to Christianity, if any of the Indians shall be brought to civility and shall come among the English and shall inhabit their plantations and shall there live civilly and orderly, that such Indians shall have allotments among the English, according to the custom of the English in like cases.  Laws of Massachusetts, Edition of 1672, at 74.

Unfortunately, this Puritan legal concept later inspired Captain Richard Henry Pratt to instigate a devasting nationwide ethnic cleansing program against Native Americans from 1874-1904, which was designed to civilize the tribes and remove them from their lands. Richard Henry Pratt, Battlefield & Classroom 272 (Ed. Robert M. Utley 1964).

Pratt forced Native Americans all over the United States to attend and participate in Christian church services in the Massachusetts tradition. Id. at 158-59, 163-64, 181.

Pratt’s ethnic cleansing movement would rely heavily upon Puritans in New England and New York for essential funding, logistical support, and political endorsement. Id. at 194-95, 197, 200, 202, 214-15, 221, 231, 237, 252, 283, 285.

See also Removing Classrooms from the Battlefield: Liberty, Paternalism, and the Redemptive Promise of Educational Choice, 2008 BYU Law Review 377 

 

Wampanoag may be a more fruitful starting point for further (Wikipedia) research than “Massachusetts Indians”.

File:Tribal Territories Southern New England.png

I stand corrected.

03 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

June Swoon Bride Pride Killer Tiller’s Killer

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim June 2009 as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month. I call upon the people of the United States to turn back discrimination and prejudice everywhere it exists.

It’s a start.  I guess waterboarding selected members of the previous administration and rotted planks in the conservative-media cabinet will have to wait, and if the flying car is an ultra-tall order, how about censuring FOX News for hate-speech?

02 Jun 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Sisterhood of Man

On seventeen separate rooftops, this morning, in one small town in rural Kentucky, seventeen volunteer firemen sit with each of their laptop computers running the Google Earth application, and a good lensatic compass in hand.  They’re all engaged in the installation and orientation of digital television antennas that will prevent the loss of free television broadcast service to the residents beneath those seventeen rootops.

Google, the giant, progressive corporation, actually heard my request! (lodged about a month ago) that they update their Google Earth application to highlight the geographic location of all digital transmitters within the United States — and promote this update as a means to help homeowners and good Samaritans ease the digital transition:  Good for Google public relations, good for good Samaritans, good for the worst and dimmest, good for the sake of goodness.

The firemen benefit doubly by;

1)  honorably helping to free the analog spectrum for first-responder/emergency communications, and

2) by actively participating with members of their community whose infirmity, age or incompetence prevent them from reconfiguring their television hardware by and for themselves.

I don’t know that those three preceding paragraphs are entirely apocryphal.  It’s possible that the example of a president bent on transparency, hope, change and interpersonal civic engagement in service of public interests has, in fact, led to the opening of homes, hearts and roof-hatches to the purpose of our helping one another.  Maybe my cynical, cloistered view of the state of current events is simply too blinkered and blindered to appreciate the actual kindnesses transpiring between my fellow Americans, and I simply don’t see it happening from the tiny well of my abysmal isolation.  Too bad for me.

Spencer Tracy (Inherit the Wind) delivered a speech in the role of Clarence Darrow, in which he said that every advance in technological innovation is countered by a significant sacrifice; we gain the power of birds to fly, but scent the clouds with gasoline; we conquer the barrier of distance with the telephone and lose the charm of absence (which makes the heart grow fonder)…as though every step toward the future of human technology is a stride away from human nature.  Jerry Mander seconds this perspective by saying that the promoters of new (&/or haphazard) technology are always people whose fortunes improve with its adoption.  It’s as though a dedicated team of divine accountants were balancing a ledger:  A dark visionary model of innovation I personally dislike and mistrust, but it makes more sense than the 58½ years I’ve spent listening to hype and tripe about The Unlimited Potential of Humankind (which hasn’t entirely materialized much).  Where are the flying cars we were promised in the 50s that betokened the dawning of The Age of Aquarius, the Brotherhood of Man, and Tomorrowland?

Why does The Sisterhood of Man sound like salacious innuendo?

The Brotherhood of Man hasn’t worked very well as an iconic model to which we aspire.  It’s come to encompass brother-rape, -torture, -pillage and -slavery as a means to the preservation of Our domestic tranquility, usually at the cost of  Theirs.  So I propose The Sisterhood (big sister or little, your choice) as an alternative target, just to change the aspirational paradigm.  Sister-rape, -torture, -pillage and -slavery might provoke a little extra doublethink while preparing to victimize the next sucker, and if that doesn’t work any better than brotherhood, The Motherhood of Man comes next.

I tend to favor the poetic synthesis Richard Brautigan anticipated in Machines of Loving Grace, which envisioned the union of sophisticated technology with our natural humanity, and facilitated the evolution of both.

So seventeen firemen aren’t sitting on seventeen rooftops this morning?  Maybe they’ve been wisely and justly delayed by solid bureacratic reasoning and won’t begin the altruistic work at-hand until Juneteenth (June 13, 2009) when irate, analog broadcast television customer-complaints pour in concerning the absence of signal on a few million television sets, and the almost-forgotten American fondness for free broadcast TV will set big wheels in motion to preserve the equilibrium of squeeky little wheels in commotion.  Whatever works.

I guess I really want that flying car, still.

31 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Right To (A) Life

Washington Weak, this morning, woke me with a panel discussion of the nomination of Judge Sotomayor (whose introduction, this week, revolted me with its Traditional American Family Values prelude — very like an Oscar-acceptance speech).  The panel’s conclusion was nebulous and conditional (as ever) with regard to the eventual outcome of the partisan squabble that will rage and languish through the remainder of the year, but one insightful remark put something else in perspective for me.

A veteran reporter said that looking back on the record of Ms Sotomayor’s opinions provides a useful lever for neither her conservative nor her liberal scrutinizers, but that looking forward to her views on abortion rights may yeild significant purchase for the opposition to her nomination.  It may have been Gwen Ifill who said in response that abortion rights is last year’s issue, that same-sex marriage is the new polarizer.

The RightToLife of an unborn fetus continues to be yet another unresolved American controversy from which the spotlight of national attention has moved on.  We seem to do that moving-on thing more than we come to definintive conclusions.  What struck me as interesting about this exchange was that the right of a fetus to be born guarantees exactly nothing with regard to its sexual orientation, nor, pretty much, anything else.

I think sexual preference is a good deal more complex than binary labels like straight or gay.  Even the four-part coalition of lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender simply reduces the vast spectrum of sexual orientations to a five-part disharmonious choir.  Anyone whose intimate union with other people is sanctioned by majority opinion is a deviant whose right to A life is discouraged to some extent by somebody.  We are, all of us, deviants from any standard definition of normative behavior.  Not only aren’t people perfect or normal or standard, it’s a wonder we’re even reasonably similar.

In fifty years of encounters with male homosexuals in and around San Francisco, I’ve come to believe that a guy comes here escaping FROM a family and community that squelched and impugned his right to an honest life.  Heterosexual parents, and an orthodox midwestern upbringing don’t guarantee the heterosexuality of the box of chocolates incubating in pregnancy.  What comes out of that belly has a right to make A life that’s every bit as high a priority as the right to be born in the first place.

Sexual orientation isn’t a function of choice.  Whether to abort or not is a choice, but once the child is born, its parents and community, state and nation are Constitutionally obligated not to impede that child’s making an optimal life.  In the same way that the Constitution doesn’t act as a practicable example to the macrocosm of the private sector, it also doesn’t proscribe the behavior of the microcosmic personal sector, either.  We, The People, don’t privately practice what it preaches about the use and abuse of power:  “Do Better”.

If an unborn fetus truly has a right to life, the quality of that life falls within the province and responsibility of the passionate RightToLife advocates.  If their arugment makes any kind of sense, the folks who bomb Planned Parenthood clinics would also be after hate-criminals.  They aren’t.  Ironically, people who oppose abortion seem to be disposed to attack sexual deviation, and any deviation from the standard American Way of impugning the rights of others to make an authentic life for themselves and their significant others.

So from the comfort of my armchair, I’m philosophizing that the lives of serial murderers, pedophiles and sociopaths have undiscovered value that won’t be revealed in this beknighted country until the RightToLife argument is taken several steps beyond its current impasse.  The thing is that same-sex marriage (the current media hot-button issue) isn’t a different controversy.  It too requires sustainable, supportable resolution:

We hold these truths to be selfevident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

I like to think it was a declaration of independence from the Bible, and that the minor faults in the language in that particular sentence reflect an adolescent (evolving) perception of sustainable, supportable rebellion from the more significant failures of our pathetic past.  The Declaration didn’t explicitly identify chicks, niggers, dirt-worshipers, chinks, spicks, micks and sexual deviants/defects as exempt from rights endowed by the right to life.  Neither do I. 

If the choice to be born is made on your behalf by people who did not consult you, they’re conscientiously obliged to get out of your way in your pursuit of conscientious happiness.

30 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Points of Interest

There’s a free treasure trove of panel discussions and interviews here:

http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/383/

The link leads to my personal favorite, though MIT World is packed with valuable items for every interest.

And there’s plenty more David Milch here:

http://theideaofthewriter.blogspot.com/

Grant McCracken’s blog is the intersection of fascinating ideas and a probing intelligence:

http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/

And Bob Hoffman’s The Ad Contrarian is an invaluable antidote to advert-think hysteria:

http://adcontrarian.blogspot.com/

Just tracking Henry Jenkins’ trail of ideas is the work of several lifetimes:

http://henryjenkins.org/

And the Rowell website:

http://www.mountainlight.com/

is an oasis of inspiration and information on the journey to learn to see.

 

I’m adding the gallery page of my DeviantArt account largely because it’s a better viewing environment for the presentation of images than I’ve managed to squeeze out of this blog.  And adding this link may spur me to post more of the best stuff I get every weekend.

http://scottellington.deviantart.com/gallery/

23 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

So Close

Catching up on the Daily Show this evening, I found Jon Stewart busily mocking the Democratic congressional irresolution in the presidential closing Guantanamo, and the reluctance of any state’s representatives to accept terrorst-detainee-refugees.  To illustrate the American competence to keep bad guys inside, Stewart cued an MSNBC clip of a patricidal cannibal named Joseph Garner, interviewed at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, who, after killing his father,  took a bite out of his father’s brain.  Stewart went on to fence brilliantly with Nuke Gingrich.

Funny thing. 

Joseph L. Garner was the name of the kid who lived across the street from me from 1951-63.  The guy on the screen looked a great deal like an older extrapolation of the Joey Garner I remember; glasses, pale and particularly strange.  Slough about 45 years, and prisoner Garner could easily be the very same kid who accidentally broke  of my little finger beneath the heel of his boot as we walked to the Saturday matinee at the Avenue Theater.  It happened when I’d reached for something interesting on the ground in front of us as we walked, while he took a shot at crushing whatever it was.  Despite being nearly identical in age, raised under similar conditions, we were two very different kids.  I ignored the pain and numbness in my finger until it started smarting from the salted popcorn, midway through the feature.  There was blood.  There was also no way I’d disclose the fact that that twirp had caused me a moment’s discomfort, but whatever friendship we’d enjoyed was 250-300% over.

I watched at a distance from that point forward as Joey’s peculiarities surfaced in the schoolyard.  All through the fifth and sixth grades, he hung out with very small kids; taunting, teasing, bullying.  And I’d listen attentively as my mother pointed to Joey as though he were a paragon of the virtues she demanded of me.  I, of course, knew a whole lot better than she…who Joey was.

Joseph Garner, inmate at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, looked like the perfect reason for me to call my mother and tell her just exactly how infallible is her judgment of character.   Unfortunately, I’m not that particular prick.  Neither, upon closer inspection of the records available to me by means of the internet, is prisoner Garner Joey.  The cannibal is probably ten years younger, slightly better looking and likely a pleasanter companion.

Still, it would have been awfully nice to take and withhold the news of this mountain of moral highground from my mother.  So very close, yet totally unsmokable.

22 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Acme of Creation

There goes another weekend spent photographing Caspian Terns.  I’ve learned that auspicious weather predictions of mid-70° temperatures don’t really account for 20-30mph winds sweeping off the bay, so I dressed for the middle of winter, and things turned out okay.  Unfortunately, I hit the beach at 0900 yesterday and about 1000 today, finding that identical conditions caused the 60-70 roosting terns to face into the NW wind, with the sun semi-bright on their backs, and incoming tide preventing me from setting up at any angle to optimize catchlighted eyes, minimize shadows, and watch for incoming birds in flight.  And both days, the kite&windsurfers arrived shortly after I did. 

On a day like today, there were about as many surfers as terns.  Although the birds are resilient in terms of turf, and they’ll condone a goodly amount of encroachment, fifty yards is about as close as anything human or canine gets before every roosting bird goes airborne.  At about 1030, a couple of guys hauled their kite-launching-operation into the breach between me and the terns (which left abruptly), while the guys spent about 30 minutes there, largely motionless, failing to launch.

I’m not one to walk up to imperfect strangers demanding to know what the fuck they think they’re doing by coming between a photographer and a mess of sitting birds at which his 18″ lens was obviously pointed.   And since I’m not quite that arrogant an asshole, I contented myself for 30 minutes of watching where the terns had gone and calculating how the change in their location might lead to better images; resourceful and inventive, projective reconfiguration of my shooting situation.  Live and let…(there’s plenty of polarizing invective here that I’ll leave to your imagination).

Ultimately, when the guys left, and the birds refused to return, I picked up my stuff and walked about 300 yards for an auspicious line-of-sight on their new location, which changed the moment an unleashed dog came at them…and again when a 6inch, half-deflated Pier 39 balloon blew out of the water toward them.  Pier 39 is about 20 miles away, northwest.

As more and more surfers arrived to take advantage of the increasingly strong and steady wind, I settled for 750 new photographs (today) and left the beach thinking about the sublime intelligence of humankind, which is (to the best of my knowledge) endlessly celebrated in song and ode and whitepaper and journal article and (human) common sense by absolutely no other species. 

We are the pinnacle of creation (according to us) and the crowning achievement of a God who smiled upon us, giving us dominion over all the earth and the lesser creatures He made before finally accomplishing the unparalleled wonder of us? 

When human kind is smart enough, or evolved enough, or divine enough to ask another species how mankind ranks on the pinnacle-meter…I don’t think we’ll like the answer.  No worries, we’re going to remain blissfully ignorant until we’ve silenced every other potentially-intelligible voice on this planet and moved on to proclaim our divine dominion over everyplace else, too.

In all, I set myself up, then moved my set-up eleven times while attempting to photograph Caspian Terns in flight in the past 48 hours.  Every weekend I spend doing this stuff, the birds teach me something new about the difficulty involved in doing it well and properly.  Thusfar, they appear to be comfortable with me planted about 65 yards from their bivouac, from which one or two birds depart to go fishing approximatedly every quarter-hour, unless there’s a school of feast in the water — then it’s almost a mass-evacuation…but the one reliable fact seems to hold that every returning bird comes back to the bivouac which moves with the random incursions of surfers, dogs and balloons…I think I’m learning to read their cues, at least a little; and keeping their displeasure with my presence managable.  So at the end of our time together, I always tender my gratitude for their patience.  I assume they understand and appreciate the gesture, because they’re always there (pretty much in the same place) the next time I see them. 

At the core of the regret I feel in walking away is leaving them to the tender mercies of the oblivious folks who remain when I’ve dragged my butt from their space.  The barnacle of creation seems a more apt description for humans, although it does a disservice to barnacles.  So the subject line of this entry went straight for the Wile E. Coyote connection, with a little Douglas Adams inflection; so long, and thanks for the sympathetic attention

In Tern, that statement simply sounds like an ecstatic croak, which is pretty much all I hear ever from them, which makes it seem as though they lead an eminently enviable existence, which doesn’t suck.

11 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

The Power of the Center

Thusfar, in the second chapter of Rudolf Arnheim’s book, he’s identified alternative models of sense-making for objects in a visual field; grided or centric.  No doubt he’s setting up some miraculously elegant proof of the necessity and complicity of these two schemes of composition in all aesthetic endeavors, not exclusively in visual/graphic arts.  The thing is that the abstract terms with which these ideas are expressed makes them feel as bloodless as math without numbers, a strenuous exercise in airy vagueness; and he’s evidently going to take his own sweet time in getting around to the notion that the model/image of a concentric system of organization is an excellent representation of the way attention works through eyes.

He opens with the familiar neonatal metaphor of a me-centered universe that radiates outward from the nucleus of attention in which a child’s perceptual mechanism locates awareness of itself.  But self-awareness in a vacuum (of significant events external to that center) is not a description of  a reality about which people can speak; it’s the curse of godlike consciousness in an absolute void.  (“Existence is beyond the power of words, to define:”)  Arnheim introduces other people to the child’s awareness as Other-centers of awareness of which the child eventually becomes cognizant as independent entities; triggering the birth of compassion and empathy.  What he hasn’t yet said is that the grid system of an objective reality is necessary for the concentric center of subjective awareness to relocate a nipple, a toy, a light…that the grid and the eddy are complementary organizational representations that make the evolving consciosness feel at home in the world of familiar events in the consensual scheme that most of the rest of us claim as our own.

It’s not that these two schemes are alternative maps of the perceptual world, mutually exclusive disciplines, but that they complement one another to provide an interlocking schematic basis for consciousness to operate and function in the physical world.  And the deadly thing about Arnheim is that I’ve no assurance he’s ever going to say what I’m hoping to find confirmed somewhere in the next 200 pages.  That very uncertainty makes it necessary to read slowly and cautiously.  Luckily, I read very slowly, anyway, but the impulse to drive relentlessly through this book is hampered by the diminishment of my curiosity, as the piles of abstractions grow higher.

Rowell’s The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography aroused my renewed curiosity in reading more Arnheim, but the profoundly dry Arnheim experience is driving me back toward Rowell, with Film as Art positioned like a malevolent defensive back waiting to smack me down when I’ve, at long last, completed The Power of the Center and before I can move toward The Inner Game again…even before the goal of better photographs comes in sight.  The gridiron analogy felt appropriate there for a moment.

07 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Generation Boom

Last week, Robert J. Elisberg posted another intelligent blog-article at Huffington Post.  With the lightly sardonic tone he often uses, he blasted the notion that George W. Bush saved us…itemizing the myriad ways in which George W. Bush did nothing of the kind.

I was moved by the article to comment, that:

George Bush saved us by quenching the Torch of Freedom in the well of our global disgrace.

“Mission Accomplished!”..?

Never!

Catching up on my iTunes subscription to The Daily Show, last night, I watched Jon Stewart converse with Cliff May about the intricacies of Americans inflicting torture on detainees.  In the course of this remarkably frustrating definitions ho-down, Stewart said that Harry Truman should have been held accountable for war crimes against humanity for lobbing atomic bombs at two unwarned Japanese cities, when the objective of ending the war would probably have been accomplished just as effectively without waging total war against unprepared civilians. 

Two nights later, Stewart backtracked from that “extreme” position.  He made it sound as though the words slipped out (of their own volition) before he’d given the proposition adequate censorial thought, saying that, upon reflection, his statement was simply stupid.

I think he was absolutely right in not pardoning Truman.  I’m suspicious of the apology that followed as disingenuous, politically correct/conventional, and far more profoundly stupid.

I went on to revisit Flags of Our Fathers and Beyond Barbed Wire/Go For Broke

I think the generation to which I belong, Generation Boom, was defined by the presidential decision to end the horrors of global war by bringing them home to the undefended wives and children of soldiers who weren’t prepared for a second “date that will live in infamy”, which Truman swiftly followed with a third.

The one thing foreign enemies always seem to forget is the uncharacteristically immoral and illegal depths to which Americans will sink in pursuit of  certain goals.  While our temporary lapses in sanity give rise to various catchphrases; Manifest Destiny, Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death, There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills, Remember the Maine, Alamo, Pearl Harbor, 911…they all have in common a bult-in  hysterically unilateral justification for anti-empathy.

And just as our foreign enemies overlook our tacit penchant for unfathomable ruthlessness, we constantly forgive ourselves for breaking Indian treaties, slavery, indentured servitude, infantilizing women, internment camps, and general acts of racial, religious and ethnic prejudice…all the forms of rampant xenophobia that transform our fellow Americans into foreign enemies…at least temporarily…long enough to exact some staggering form of vengeance in retaliation against the diversity they represent.

Generation Atom is gradually fading away.  My cohort (formerly Beats, Hippies and Punks) is replacing them, daily,  as pillars of an establishment that practices hypocrisy.  I think the cure for the fossilization of virtue resides in daily doing better unto Others than will be done unto you.

06 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Scriptural Distillation

Do better unto others than will be done unto you.

01 May 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Dark Passage

It’s a better film than Lady in the Lake that presents a far less convoluted plot and utilizes first-person camera quite a bit more effectively.  Although there is no commentary on the DVD I saw last night, the behind-the-scenes featurette narrator described the “first-person camera” technique with that term, which really does convey enough information to make “ontogenic” comparatively obsolete.

Delmer Daves’ treatment of his storyline is significantly less pedantic and literal (fundamentalist) than Montgomery’s, and Dark Passage (according to the featurette narrator) benefited greatly from the use of a much smaller camera.  Bogart’s role as Vincent Parry is made instantly more sympathetic by means of Parry’s spoken-to-nobody narrative, a trait that’s later explained in the film as a habit he picked up in prison.  Whether talking to himself (and to the audience) or to an on-screen character (in the familiar voice of Humphrey Bogart — like radio-cinematography) this device crystalizes and differenitiates several of the viewer’s Bogart-expectations from the viewpoint of this  story’s specific protagonist.  We not only see the world through Parry’s eyes, we also hear his thoughts, and that’s a vitally important literary dimension stripped from the reductive Montgomery cinematic variation of (a very literary) The Lady in the Lake.

Now that I have a couple of mainstream Hollywood experiments in first-person camera to compare with one another, the first, most obvious stumbling block in both films is the choice of the white, male protagonist as the one-and-only empathic POV from which each story is shot.  I have absolutely no problem gazing into the deliciously classy mystery known as Lauren Bacall, but I’d actually much prefer to see this story shown from the perspective of Irene Jansen, Bacall’s character.

Hanging out for the past several years at erotic photographic websites and forums, I’ve come to the conclusion that the women photographed are used primarily as projections screens for familiar male erotic/romantic fantasies.   The moment in The Matrix when the hot, openly-inviting blonde in the hot red party dress arrests Neo’s attention electrifies the first-person presence with an empathic lightning bolt, but its a device that operates on the locker-room level of conversation, like smalltalk between guys.  “Did you see the sash on that one?!”  How it feels to be a beautiful woman in public space composed largely of eyeballs, urges, contempt and lurid imaginations locked upon your every gesture — seems like a universe of fascinating stories Hollywood hasn’t bothered to tell, empathically nor otherwise.

The most fascinating aspect of Sex in the City, for me, was the long-desired opportunity to sense  mundane reality from the perspective of four attractive women, who converse with unprecedented candor.  The show never quite managed to provide the intimate glimpse I wanted from the high-heeled moccasins of an unqualified sexual-attention-target, but Dark Passage didn’t even try.  I wish it had.  Ultimately, the primary strength of the film resides in superior casting.  Bogart and Bacall do very fine work (that inevitably pales by comparison with To Have and Have Not), but the first half of the film belongs to Tom D’Andrea as the cab driver, who hands the film off to his exact-opposite;  Agnes Moorhead’s toweringly bitchy performance as the incredible Madge,  the unopened lock within which sits the riddle that drives the action and the heart of the film.

Casting 1946/7 San Francisco as the backdrop also works wonders for me, in that LA locations are less resonant (for me) in the noirs of the very same era, and the recognizable/articulated LA intersections don’t drip with the same desire to physically contextualize Ft. Point, Hyde Street, Powell & Market…, and the theoretical seven hills between the Ferry Building and Ocean Beach that Sam, the cabdriver, alludes to in the story he relates to Parry in the midst of the formation of an amazingly strong empathetic bond between two strangers, a theme that’s repeated throughout the film, and contrasted with relentless interrogations.

While Daves’ camera treatment of Parry is vastly more lyric and sympathetic than Montgomery’s take on Chandler’s material, it’s worthy of note that the corpse of Parry’s closest friend, George Fellsinger, is photographed in coverage from a point far beneath the floor (that’s magically turned to glass) in another yet alternative camera technique (extremely steep angles [that invariably tell their very own stories]) I’ve been longing for decades to see employed by innovative filmmakers and photographers.
http://somecamerunning.typepad.com/.a/6a00e5523026f58834011278d6f8ad28a4-800wi
  The visually sympathetic treatment of the fugitive protagonist is counterpointed by the battery of grueling, relentless, spontaneous interrogations that intensify the identification of the audience with Parry, while the forces that move the women in the film seem permanently condemned to be utterly mysterious; Miss Jansen’s wealth and idealism are superficially explained, but Madge Rapf’s psychotic persistence (and fall) bleeds unexplained madness through every frame of a film that traces Parry’s dogged determination to reveal the truth about his wife’s murder, while leaving a trail of dead people that terminates in Peru in one of the Hollywood’s strangest (and yet most spiritually satisfying) “resolutions”  to a murder mystery, ever.   Dark Passage is one very peculiar film.

I liked it a lot, largely because, as the featurette narrator says, there are fascinating secondary characters everywhere you look in a film that makes a good deal more emotional sense than The Lady in the Lake, and also did very little business at the box office.  Go figure.

Just as Focus is a film about (antiSemitic) intolerance that derives from the personnel manager’s story (that starts and ends early) in Gentleman’s Agreement, I like attempting (and failing) to reframe these classic films from the alternative perspectives of other characters locked forever in place in these narratives.   Madge’s motivations are probably beyond my comprehension, but Irene Jansen’s feel like they belong to somebody I already know.  The nearest thing to an example of the tree I’m barking up is evident in StopLoss, a film in which male comradeship is exquisitely characterized by a female director (Kimberly Pierce) with, unprecedented sensitivity and empathic eloquence.  Also, go figure.

29 Apr 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 2 Comments

Empathic Camera

Although it’s a more conventional method of naming this otogenic/subjective camera thing, “empathy” is a term that’s deadlocked in controversy.  Wikipedia reveals about a dozen slightly/widely varied interpretive definitions from cognitive slants to affective and the terminally-inarticulate.  I’m drawn to the empathic camera shortcut by the generally more-communicative impression that it pertains to something vaguely familiar, when introduced into conversation, without the need to dive into the etymology of “ontogenic”.  The problem with “subjective camera” (the term most frequently used) is that it’s even more vague and misleading than “empathic camera”.

Lick a postage stamp and stick it to your forehead, right between your brows.  Rather than a simple postage stamp, it’s a NewAge, high-tech, HiDef, wireless movie camera that records visual imagery largely as you see, although not exactly.  It doesn’t blink, it’s field of view, automatic aperture, sensitivity and frame rate make it functionally different from the way your eyes work…and it doesn’t move (as your eyes do when you roll them in their sockets and otherwise use them to express an emotional state to the rest of world), and it’s fitted with a microphone.  It’s also visible as it sits there on your forehead like a third eye — which might incline other people to keep their distance.

I mean that calling that device a “subjective camera” starts off on the wrong foot in several superficial ways, but far more importantly, the term fails to communicate the fact that your subjective experience is not well communicated to another person who is using your “subjective camera” to monitor your experience.  It’s a small, wireless objective camera that happens to be stuck to your forehead.  If you shield your eyes from the sun, it records the movement of your hand and a change in ambient lighting, but your cramped calf, the toe you stubbed on the doorstop, while walking out of the movie theater into bright afternoon sunlight…can only be pieced together inferrentially by the observer with the aid of sound cues and an acute empathic understanding of your subjective experience.  The observer’s empathic facility complements the shortcoming of your forehead camera, in order to make sense of your experience.

Mirror neurons deserve a great deal more attention and study than I’ve devoted to them since yesterday.  It does appear, however, that a plethora of fun associations have been tied to the idea that motor neurons in the brains of monkeys are enervated by the actions of proximal others.   Now, I’m still intrigued by the right/left brain hayride we entered upon 40 years ago, so far be it from me to go all hard-science-skeptical on the mirror neuron enthusiasm, but the most attractive fragment of information I’ve noticed thus far is that they’re located in the motor (rather than sensory) cortex of experimental subjects, which implies to me that the domain of ACTION is the understated key that lies beneath the fascinating extrapolations drawn by folks who believe (as I do) that empathy is hardwired deep into the human organism.

Before I get lost in an irrelevant monologue about going through the motions and the explosively fascinating universe of neat ideas that the mirror neuron conversation initiates…back to the camera-thing:

That forehead camera, no matter how sophisticated the integration of its parts, falls far short of reproducing and recording the entirety of your subjective experience; and therefore makes demands upon the experiential vocabulary of the person who is trying to see your world through your “eye”.  Likewise, the army of NASA analysts struggle to interpret the vision of Mars provided by a Rover, and the camera’s view is not nearly so much subjective as empathic, because the integrative functionaries that read the monitor interpret findings and make decisions about the next move the Rover makes based on an empathic grasp of what’s around the corner (from several million miles away).

The audience in Robert Montgomery’s Lady in the Lake were  lured to the film on the falsely advertized premise that THEY would be Phillip Marlow for a couple of hours.  What they weren’t told was that the fascinating inner dialogue between Chandler and Marlowe would be entirely inaudible to them; that Marlowe’s thought processing was confined to another medium (another channel of telemetry) that in 1947 could only be accessed by reading the book.  I know how NASA scientists feel by virtue of their body language, and not from the neologistic doubletalk with which they communicate with one another. 

The 1932 and 1941 movie versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde were serious uphill slogs for me, for several reasons that needn’t be hammered mercilessly here, beyond saying that they weren’t much fun.  I’m hoping that Altered States will be a more enjoyable treatment of exacly the same idea, substituting primitive impulse and proto-human mentality for “EVIL”.  I remember Altered States fondly, but that was also true of St. Elsewhere, Hill St. Blues, Highlander and Kojak…  Some old and influential stuff that delighted me once upon a time has absolutely not held up beneath the weight of comparison with many more recent offerings to which it gave rise.

So the postage stamp camera (in my mind) remains “ontogenic” because the willingness of the audience/observer to empathize is practically non-negotiable.  The facility of the ontogenic camera to tell an engaging story cannot depend upon the talent and life-experience of the viewer to fill in the blanks left vacant by the failure of the filmmaker to provide them.  The challenge (for example) lies in filming Chris Lavery’s interacton with Marlowe in a way that leaves their interpersonal dialogue intact, but simultaneously layers in (like commentary tracks don’t yet quite manage to do) Marlowe’s internal evaluation of the tanned, brawny, skirt-chasing weasel whose snowballing indignation eventually surprises even Marlowe, when Lavery spits near his own feet, on his own rug and stands confrontationally before Marlow, “like watching the veneer peel off and leave a tough kid in an alley.  Or like hearing an apparently refined woman start expressing herself in four-letter words.”  

Chandler invested in Marlowe’s inner monologue a self-reflexive view of Marlowe’s vision of the outside world that simultaneously contrasted with and greatly sharpened the reader’s perception of the scene, gradually revealing the inner-speaker as an aspect of the reader’s experience, different from cursory expectations of Marlowe.  That’s empathic storytelling.  Getting that degree of communicative complexity from a camera won’t be easy, and the devices I’ve seen used in 1932, 1941, 1947 and here&there since then provide no reason for optimism anytime soon.  Dark Passage should arrive tomorrow.  Who knows?

28 Apr 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 10 Comments

The Killing Power of the Small

I’m watching Body of Lies, a film which, in only 43 minutes has made a great number of interesting points.  Those points have stimulated my imagination to see that the mysterious, chaotic phenomenon we’re lately calling “terrorism” was explained several hundred years ago in the I Ching, as The Killing Power of the Small, which is simply a situation in which wills contend, but real power is vested in force of arms, wealth and/or vastly greater numbers, but the smaller/weaker force exercises its lesser influence specifically at the most vulnerable links in the major power’s sphere of influence.

Thoreau, Gandhi and King advocated disobedience of the dictates of power by civil, peaceful and humane means, but the strength of will they also advocated was demonstrated tactically in protests to influence majority public opinion away from customary adherence to (objectionable) law and toward reform/re-envisionment of moral and legal precepts that are fundamental to the conduct of business-as-usual.

Terrorism is civil disobedience without the humane provision.  Protests and demonstrations of minorty will actually do destabilize empires, unseat popular presidents, and move mountains.  Civil disobedience without the humane provision led directly to the incarceration and assassination of the Black Panthers, to a wrong-headed, preemptive counter-attack on Iraq, and to the Obama presidency.  The humanity clause is there for a reason; unimaginable consequences flow from its removal.

I’d like to thank Ridley Scott for yet another excellent lesson in the evils of xenophobia.

I’m saying that bin Laden is Gandhi on steroids and angel dust.  The film says that our terrorist enemy is fighting the inevitable Wave of the Future (in many more ways than one, but specifically) by skipping the convenience and luxury of electronic communication to pass kill-orders and by exercizing medieval brutality to strike at the vulnerable kinks in the net that tie U.S. together. 

Rather than obeying the wishes of our terrorist enemy; die or convert to whatever religion they say…read your Ching.  It’s the distillation of culture, and  We are small.

Okay, it’s actually The Taming Power of the Small, Hsiao Ch’u.  I’ve aleady admitted to memory defects, and the quality of lethality injected by my semi-convenient misremembering not only makes for a more dramatic topic line, it also states the case I tried to make, that challenging authority with the explicit threat of violence opens a door to chaotic consequences (“police riot” much?) that defy prediction.  It’s also very difficult to determine, when all the dust of expedited change has settled, whether or not that door is truly closed.

26 Apr 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

NYT Review of LitL

Published: January 24, 1947

 

Having seen “Lady in the Lake” yesterday at the Capitol, this corner now can confirm what the advertisements have been saying all along. The picture is definitely different and affords one a fresh and interesting perspective on a murder mystery. YOU do get into the story and see things pretty much the way the protagonist, Phillip Marlowe, does, but YOU don’t have to suffer the bruises he does. Of course, YOU don’t get a chance to put your arms around Audrey Totter either. After all, the movie makers, for all their ingenuity, can go just so far in the quest for realism.

As the star and director, Robert Montgomery permits the camera to do most of his “acting,” the result being that his image is only observed when it can naturally be reflected through a mirror. And, since the story is a first person affair, the camera on occasion observes the detective seated at a desk relating his tortuous and exciting adventures in locating the missing Mrs. Chrystal Kingsby.

In making the camera an active participant, rather than an off-side reporter, Mr. Montgomery has, however, failed to exploit the full possibilities suggested by this unusual technique. For after a few minutes of seeing a hand reaching toward a door knob, or lighting a cigarette or lifting a glass, or a door moving toward you as though it might come right out of the screen the novelty begins to wear thin. Still, Mr. Montgomery has hit upon a manner for using the camera which most likely will lead to more arresting pictorial effects in the future.

Since Raymond Chandler provided the story and Steve Fisher wrote the screen play, one can rest assured that the plot isn’t lacking in complications, romantic and otherwise. Marlowe, naturally, has a weakness for a pretty client and runs into plenty of trouble with the police and assorted strangers the deeper his investigation goes. Clues sprout and evaporate, or end up as blind leads, until the spectator is nicely but firmly confused. This bewilderment doesn’t extend so much to the identity of the lady found in the lake as it does to how Marlowe will go about solving the mystery.

Mr. Montgomery has the least acting to do, but his scenes are played with ease and conviction. His Phillip Marlowe is somewhat more cynical and sneering—a characterization which is developed more by the tone of his voice than anything else—than the previous conceptions of the detective we got from Dick Powell in “Murder, My Sweet” and Humphrey Bogart in “The Big Sleep.” You can take your choice of the three and still be happy. Audrey Totter, who is blonde and fetching, gets her first really important role in this picture and handles herself most credibly. Lloyd Nolan, Jayne Meadows and Leon Ames do very well by supporting roles, which permit them to develop sizable characterizations.
LADY IN THE LAKE, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler; screen play by Steve Fisher; directed by Robert Montgomery; produced by George Haight for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Philip Marlowe . . . . . Robert Montgomery
Adrienne Fromsett . . . . . Audrey Totter
Lieutenant DeGarmot . . . . . Lloyd Nolan
Captain Kane . . . . . Tom Tully
Derace Kingsby . . . . . Leon Ames
Mildred Havelend . . . . . Jayne Meadows
Chris Lavery . . . . . Dick Simmons
Eugene Grayson . . . . . Morris Ankrum
Receptionist . . . . . Lila Leeds
Artist . . . . . William Roberts
Mrs. Grayson . . . . . Kathleen Lockhart
Chrystal Kingsby . . . . . Ellay Mort

In heated conversation wth the guys from Heroes, David Thorburn indicated that the entertainment industry failed for twenty years to tell stories effectively in that medium, and not until the middle/late 60s did they get it halfway right.  I worship at Professor Thorburn’s temple, but the statue devoted to Kojak just puts me uptight.

Montgomery tried to project the subjective experience of reading a compelling novel (that was cobbled together from earlier short stories) onto The Big Screen in an age when movie cameras were as tiny and agile as Robbie the Robot.  Montgomery also smooshed a lot of the bitter, irrascible, curmudgeonly Raymond Chandler into his largely-unpleasant, unheroic portrayal of Phillip Marlow.  And prevented the (medium-BigDraw) star of the movie, himself, from appearing (more than momentarily) onscreen.  In retrospect, the film describes  a lot like a recipe for disaster.

It was a very bold, upstream, mainstream industrial experiment that failed for several reasons; none of them definitive.  If (for the past 20, 40, 60 years) filmmakers had worked assiduously at sidestepping Montgomery’s errors in filming ontogenic/subjective camera studies, maybe the challenges facing transmedia storytellers would be significantly different.  Maybe not.

Whether and how this movie or novel relates to the titular reference embedded in Arthurian legend remains to be seen, but I confess a certain affection for the notion that Marlowe’s powers of observation liken him to Merlin, his obsolete idealism puts me in mind of Arthur, and the contradiction of an intermittently sleazy boyscout kind of smells like Lancelot.  There’s also an attractive allusion in The Lady In/Of the Lake to the continuing, unresolved determination whether the sword or the pen is the more mighty Promethean instrument.  I tend to lean toward the camera, but each tool is essentially a technical implement wielded by creative imagination in various media, so they’re fundamentally one (and the same) means to the end of profoundly effective communication.

24 Apr 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | 3 Comments

Test

It’s worth another attempt.

_dsc8463bcooked

Still wrong.

23 Apr 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Happy Earth Day

_dsc34411What if, all these centuries, we’ve been praying in the wrong direction?  That might explain the relative infrequency with which our prayers are answered.  If God, The Father, were in the earth and Mother Nature were overhead maybe western culture wouldn’t have become so deeply invested in desecrating a female Earth.

This tern hangs out with a colony of Caspians I spent yesterday photographing.  Eventually, I suppose, I’ll get around to properly identifying its variety.  In the meanwhile, it’s a photograph that serves to punctuate or illustrate an obligatory post.

22 Apr 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Ontogenic Storytelling

I’ve made up a word to identify the “gimmick” used in The Lady in the Lake.  The term is intended to fork away from the mimetic convention that’s currently used to show/tell a cinematic story from several camera angles, so I’m simultaneously dubbing the mainstream, Hollywood camera/editing tradition cryptogenic mimesis, for the sake of differentiated contrast. 

Commercial interruption, appointment televison, and this freeform-perspective-thing feel to me like absurd entertainment industry impositions which characterize a kind of zombified audience hypnotic somnambulism; stuff we deeply need to learn to live without enroute to a truly converged, participatory culture.

Cryptogenic mimesis provides the filmmaker with unlimited license to tell a story in any temporal/sequential order, from every possible point of view.  Flags of Our Fathers is  one recent example of sequential chaos telling story (extremely well) from a wildly nonlinear perspective.  But every popular film and television episode I’ve ever seen (with the sole exception of The Lady in the Lake) does the other thing, which is:

  1. The camera’s point of view belongs to a person who doesn’t exist; an ostracized ghost from Dickens or one of Ellison’s titular characters.
  2. None of the actors in any scene recognize the existence of the entity through whose eyes I’m viewing the scene.
  3. My point of view flits between physical (and or temporal) locations in the flow of depicted action in which I cannot participate.
  4. The disembodied, multiple-observer, nonparticipating entity that represents my perspective in cinema/video product results in a kind of cryptic existence that’s codified into a convention that nearly nobody questions.

Perhaps the best way to state my objection to the nearly-ubiquitous cryptogenic mimetic convention is to say that watching Monday Night Football often sent me up the wall with replays of a given situation that never included the quarterback’s helmet camera, so the choices he made that resulted in a career-ending injury, an interception, or a gain in yardage were never presented from the point of view of the most (moment-to moment) important player on the field.  No matter how often the replay would appear, and regardless of the number of camera angles presented, definitive evaluation of quarterback choice and performance was invariably interpreted from alternative perspectives…with commentary, backstory and expert revisionism courtesy of John, Al, Frank, Dan, Don, Boomer, even Howard…all of whom performed the functions of editor and historian.  Eventually, I realized that that wasn’t what I wanted, and stopped watching…televison.  Of course, I have to add, since John Madden just announced his intention to retire from televized football commentary, that I’ve always loved the insight into every play his far more experienced vision afforded me.

Most any love scene is photographed from several angles.  As the actors begin to engage, the camera moves in for the exchange of tongues and saliva, but the presence of an observer, in the real world, generally leads directly to lovers backing away from one another, getting a private room, and replaying the scene without the pesky voyeurism.  The presence of an interested observer either modifies the behavior of aroused participants or they’re playing/pandering to the observer, which can be profoundly meaningful.  That’s the class and kind of mystifying unreality I’m trying far too hard to explain.  I think there’s something fundamentally insane in the way our entertaining stories are made and the 90year history we’ve inherited that prevents the raising of an eyebrow, let alone a universal objection to the treatment of viewer as nonentity, cast as above-the-line lure; staff, crew, location as interchangable (von Sternberg/von Stroheim) objects.

My defective memory mumbles a reference in Plato to a character named Thrasymachus, who was granted a cloak of invisibility with which to ply the trade of pornographer, paparazzo, birdwatcher…ringbearing hobbit.   Wikipedia and an active imagination (should) complement memory defects. 

After just one chapter of Chandler’s The Lady in the Lake, I see that Philip Marlowe’s profoundly perceptual and observative narration of events and complex situations is absolutely indispensible to the differentiation of character (especially Marlowe’s, and every character/locale he scrutinizes rhetorically), and that the absence of Marlowe’s inner monologue in the movie version transforms the film into just another two or three trick gimmick-pony, comparatively flat and disinteresting.  It’s also a landmark experiment I absolutely have to own.  Alain Silver’s commentary mentions independent and European NewWave experiments that lean in the same direction.  If he responds to my email, I’ll pass along some names.  Dark Passage and the Jekyll/Hyde thing are just for starters.  It’s also time for me to take another, more careful look at TimeCode.

Ontogenic isn’t a word that I’ve been able to find used anywhere previously.  It derives from the Greek root that relates to the individual entity, as opposed to the more generic term for phylum, race or species.  It also allows me to embed the colloquial suggestion that we’re onto something interesting here, whereas ontic leans in the contra-indicated direction of an omniscient entity.  Antic pertains to grotesque and obsolete forms of art. Entic, Intic, Untic…nah.  OntoGENIC is intended to emphasize the healing and restorative powers of exercizing the facility of self-aware identity.  It’s contrasted by the role of a silent partner whose wealth helps fund the entertainment enterprise, but whose observations and notes are definitively not consulted throughout the course of production.  The audience is that silent, infantilized partner.

I think ontogenic adequately describes the healthy impulse toward an individual, corporal/corporeal and coherent point of view that effectively summarizes the range of perspectives in With the Angels (at StrikeTV.com) and The Lady in the Lake while contrasting this stuff (of which I’d like to find more) from everything else.  The Fourth Wall penetration moments that show up in Hitchcock and Hope/Crosby Road pictures count for something, just not one whole hell of a lot. 

Open and flexible thinking persists while learning whether somebody unnoticed has already thunk this thing all the way through.

20 Apr 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Every Other Day

Writing here daily isn’t an objective that interests me, but every other day feels like an ambition I might actually be able to pull off.  Looking back at the first two installments in this blog, I realize I haven’t connected ALL of the necessary dots to present my peculiar points of view satisfactorily, even to me, let alone to another, more skeptical reader; you. 

While nobody sane would accuse me of failure to beat dead horses with the clearly very limited and spotty comprehension I possess of the issues they signify, I’m also reluctant to go back re-edit what I’ve already written.  Still there are gaps in continuity, spelling and sentence structure that demand some form of address, so I’ll try to press forward every other day in adherence to the plan while answering questions, incongruities and misleads already left dangling.

The first of these (that I remember) is a brief review of The Lady in the Lake, the Chandler-based film in which Robert Montgomery directed and in which he appears as Philip Marlowe: 

It didn’t suck, but now that I have several pounds of unread Raymond Chandler’s writing parked on my desk, I can say with confidence that it’s the first-person narrative eloquence with which Marlowe describes everything that most clearly distinguishes the character’s perception as eminently engaging…and that’s exactly what’s missing from the innovative approach Montgomery took in creating a film that is 90% talking heads and exposition.  Laying pipe is not very interesting.  On the other hand, there are fascinating technical achievements everywhere in this film.  The most striking of which are very long sequences in which non-star actors emote at the camera, evoking the impression that the viewer actually IS Philip Marlowe interacting with, relating to and talking at Audrey Totter (principally) who in the course of the film undergoes astonishing, nearly plausible, and entirely fascinating transformations from one kind of moderately-stereotyped 40s female character to another; gold-digging, indispensibly efficient, phoney career-girl to fiancee, asylum/confidante…and stuff like that.

The bottom line on my take of this lonely example of mainstream Hollywood Bmovie  subjective camera experiment is that it didn’t quite work, and it sure didn’t suck, but that it fails by taking a too-literal approach to the subjective camera technique, while purging the most important magnets that draw attention to Raymond Chandler, Chandlerisms.  That’s no knock on snappy banter, of which there’s nearly as much as is found in moderately engaging screwball comedies, but the glue that holds the convoluted story line together is nonstop exposition, which leads very swiftly to wholesale audience disengagement.

Doubt works the same nerve.  Shanley says that the final act of the play is staged after the audience leaves the theater to discover that the person with whom the just saw the presentation seems to have seen an entirely different theatrical event.  Four principle players very beautifully extract from their parts the crossroads at which the audience’ expectations depart from familiar stereotyped conclusions about who those characters are.  They’re us.  I got caught early in the film in the course of  Father Flynn’s first sermon that hinges on the comforting ubiquity of doubt.  It’s Shanley’s brilliant statement that the faith that draws the faithful together is shadowed by an equally universal and powerful phenomenon that is widely under-reported, and that that uncertainty is just as effective at uniting  those of us who can but don’t afford one another the benefit of doubt.  Gossip and intollerance are the handmaidens of faith, while empathy and capacity for liberal non-interference smell like weakness in contrast with the other thing.

It’s a fascinating film that strikes at the heart of the (evangelical, fundamentalist) certainty that sexual preference is optional.  Sexual perversity is a one-way street.  There is strength in uniformity of thought.  We know the souls of other people.  This movie beats the holy crap out of Joe Versus the Volcano and Moonstruck as  fables to contemplate seriously.  The nerve it works (in common with The Lady in the Lake) is audience credulity, by refuting traditional cinematic audience expectations and substituting the challenging theatrical imagination in its unaccustomed place. 

I’d get off on a camera in the writers’ room and at table reads.  Commentary MP3s by writers, actors, crew and directors who are in no way associated with the production they’re discussing is, in my mind, the next logical step in transmedia branding, because the expensive logos that come before titles (and after the legal gobbledygook) on DVDs are all about the distribution of proprietary intellectual property, a term which is at least four kinds of oxymoron bent on preserving the time-honored fiction that the house always wins (at the expense of culture).  There are stars of cinematic commentary, even now, rising above the horizon.  Alain Silver is the only one of them I’ve thusfar encountered, but the time of that new industrial complex is only a moment from dawning.

18 Apr 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | | 1 Comment

Introduction

Now that I’ve begun my first blog, I guess I ought to reference a few of the knottier (not self-explanatory) references I dropped into the first entry.

The National Conference on Media Reform (NCMR);

http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&rls=com.microsoft:en-us:IE-Address&rlz=1I7SNYF_en&q=National+Conference+on+Media+Reform&um=1&ie=UTF-8&ei=3mrnSa6bH6SatAOQwr3lAQ&sa=X&oi=video_result_group&resnum=4&ct=title#

convened last summer in St. Paul, Minnesota, was jam-packed with interesting speakers, events and sidebars.  Among the most memorable of these, for me, was Tim (End2End) Wu’s description of the U.S. Constitution as a document that (fundamentally) outlines the limitations of federal governmental power to  impact on the lives of citizens.  The important thing the Constitution doesn’t do is furnish a utilized example for private enterprise in shaping/impacting the lives of employees. 

Early in the very first episode of The Wire, the murdered victim of street violence, Snot,  is described as a moderately retarded guy who always attempted to scoop up the common gambling pot and abscond with it into the darkness, which always resulted in Snot getting the snot beat out of him by the rest of the group.  McNulty asks the informant why nobody prevented Snot from playing, if everyone knew that at some point he’d take a half-witted shot at stealing everone’s winnings.  “Ain’t this America?” was a wonderful response.  I think it means that the Constitution acts as a moral guide for far too few of us, and is not utilized in that way at by a great many others, whose vested self-interests, tyrannical rule and abusive, unconscionable, incumbent power it clearly discourages.

Beating Snot senseless(er) was considered okay, but killing the fool was regarded by the speaker as downright unAmerican.  I’m going to follow this line of reasoning one more step and suggest that the influence on individual conscience of The Golden Rule runs exactly counter to the rule of gold; that the spirit embedded in the Constitution aligns (for [the collective agenda of] governance) with the prescription for hip individual living.  Self-interest, conversely,  is the rule of gold, and justifies a dog-eat-dog perception of human existence, as though the “jungle out there” is all that exists, contravening the dictates of conscience, The Golden Rule, and the example of conscientious government outlined in the United States Constitution.

Oops.  I don’t seem to be debugging my first blog entry very effectively.  WTF.

Later in the conversation I had with Grant McCracken, I tried to retract any earlier rants I may have visited on the Nikon Corporation’s lack of support for “legacy” products that are not currently coming off their production lines.  Last week I learned that NikonUSA’s website references several phone numbers that lead directly to the kind of support that is not (yet) made available online.  The 1982 vintage 600mm Nikkor f/4.0 ED-IF [AI-S] lens I bought last February, from a vendor and prevaricator on eBay, was described incorrectly as free of problems.  For the past two months I’ve been chasing shadows up blind alleys in search of (“ancient” Nikon information, like) an exploded diagram or service manual or userguide to find part numbers to effect repairs (as though salvaged replacement parts were readily available) on a splendid supertelephoto lens that’s been so badly abused that my D300 digital camera wobbles in its interface, and the aperture ring did not control the diaphragm.  None of this stuff is as hopeless as it appeared to be while I was busy ranting in frustration a few weeks ago.

Caspian Tern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This seems like a reasonable place to insert the .jpg of a Caspian Tern I shot last Sunday with a rented descendant of my manual-focus lens.  The purpose of this weekend rental adventure was to establish a standard of perfomance to which the restoration of my legacy lens aspires.  Just for the record the rental lens is hot off the production line.  It’s valued in excess of $10,000, and never stopped terrorizing the crap out of  me until I’d returned it to the exemplary rental company from which I rented it, BorrowLenses; they ship nationwide, with offices two freeway exits away from me. 

The original cost of my legacy lens, including shipping and ongoing repairs is still under $3500, and the difference in image quality is not 6500 bucks.  Autofocus, as a matter of fact, is a monumental pain in the butt.  I have a lot to learn about shot discipline and manual-focus consistency, but that realization is a irresistible springboard to as-yet unexplored states of mind.  And here’s where I add the continually evolving conclusion that getting swell photographs is only a fraction of the pleasure this 13pound hunk of hardware has already given me.

And finally, Milch and Clark, if I’ve understood them correctly, insist that the public face of law enforcement in this country is significantly different in practice than citizens are entitled to know.   That  would mean that the rising flap over Bush-era interrogation techniques of high-value detainees in the War on Terror are far less starkly contrasted than we now generally believe from the practices of law enforcement officials busting suspected pimps, junkies,  murderers and thieves.  If that’s so, then the Obama Administration’s reluctance to satisfactorily renounce, disclose and open to public scrutiny the excesses of the recent past begin to make some sense.  

Full disclosure and accountability would not be limited to post911 CIA monstrosity, but would necessarily lead to scrutiny of the commonplace, traditional methods of domestic law enforcement; a gigantic, retroactive, profoundly destabilizing housecleaning.

16 Apr 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dolts in Toyland; a conversation

It’s an intermittent conversation  recently resumed with this:

http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2009/04/twitter-and-groan-new-sounds-in-new-media.html

where I wrote sparingly, and pithily, I think, after considerable thought;

“Perhaps the groan issues from the gut of those of us who are simply over-the-hill in a line-of-sight virtual universe.”

His email effectively encouraged me to blither on.

Scott,

more wonderful control of language! 

Thanks,  Grant

 I countered with: 

 

 

Grant,

Twitter’s likely to remain an alien mystery to me, but the Politics and Popular Culture panel, accessible through the link I dropped,

http://mitworld.mit.edu/video/655

just reminded me of the groundswell of citizen-journalist energy that crowded into NCMR last summer.  And that means that a tweet is essentially the sound of a whistle-blower infinitely complicating the slippery slope between one’s public image(s) and private enterprises.  I think that new, more effective definitions of terms like, “transparent”, “public”, “secret” and “national security”  cannot possibly keep pace with developing hardware, let alone the purposes to which people will put it.

When everybody’s wired, when every audience member represents critical press, when there is no “off-the-record”, when everyone you meet is a potential iHole…whither confidentiality and trust?

Perhaps the next big real estate boom will depend upon LAN-damping, communities in which no electronic message can result in wider/global consequences.

I absolutely loathed The Final Cut until I caught the commentary; afterward, it became one of my favorite films, even though it’s only a primitive and preliminary dance around a raft of pivotal 21st Century dilemmas…an era in which no man is an island unless he pays a bunch.

I really like the line you drew between tweeting and pun-ishment.  Effective communication, by means of the dreadful kludge of the English language, demands a degree of consensual seriousness and sincerity, which punning completely invalidates.  The punisher objectifies the mode of communication at the violent expense of content, while devaluing the correspondent by failing to take the message and the messenger seriously.  There’s probably no Miranda warning on a free electron.  There should be, if anything you say or do can be used in the court of public discourse to sway opinion, it will be used to someone’s ruinous disadvantage, eventually.

The commentary for Murder, My Sweet contained a reference to Robert Montgomery’s The Lady in the Lake.  The film which Montgomery directed, and in which he also stars, is described as a thriller/mystery in which the camera’s point of view is the lead actor’s point of view, so he only appears in the film when he walks in front of a reflective surface.  Netflix will probably have it here in a couple of days.  This POV thing I’ve been curious about may turn out to be a totally dreadful way to tell a story.  I’m just looking to find out whether it works.  I think it’s insane that there are so few examples of persistently coherent POV that nobody I’ve asked can name a film in which it happens — if they’re sure they know what the hell I’m blithering about.  Happy Chicago!

Film at 11. 

Scott

 

 Grant,

Thanks for;

http://www.cultureby.com/trilogy/2009/04/dolts-in-toyland.html

 

It aligned in time very nicely with my experience of the commentary track for Murder, My Sweet in which a filmmaker named Alain Silver

http://www.alainsilver.com/

suggested strongly that Raymond Chandler loathed the unrealistic convention of the iconic, omniscient detective, which led very directly the evolution (if not the creation) of Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe.

Mall Cop and Observe and Report aren’t on my list of things to do, but I just placed an order with Amazon for a mess of Chandler in a couple of volumes, wishlisted his selected letters and notes, ordered your Transformations, and pre-ordered the upcoming release of Lonely Are The Brave.

There’s a new and contemptuous Washington Post review of Observe and Report, here:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/09/AR2009040904161.html?wpisrc=newsletter&wpisrc=newsletter&wpisrc=newsletter&wpisrc=newsletter

 

The most resonant aspect of your blog-post, for me, concerns the super-perceptive detective, whose powers of observation, deduction and inferential reasoning sell well, undeniably.

Buried in the subtext of NYPD Blue, conversely, the intrinsically superior, infallible faculties of eccentrics like Holmes, Monk, House, Poirot, Columbo…have very little to do with the reality of criminal detection.

In True Blue, David Milch and Bill Clark repudiate the common belief that hard, scientific evidence and brilliant forensic criminologists put bad guys away. 

Circumstantial evidence and eyewitness reports ain’t shit.

The uber-detective is a comforting fiction that’s just as impracticable as a Miranda warning when a working investigator is busily manipulating a criminal suspect into the production of an unimpeachable confession.

Adding a lawyer to that mix guarantees absolute failure and hopeless recourse to the CSI-brand of pocket-protector and paper-chase police work; anathema to priests and detectives.

They paint an effective detective as an eagle scout or choirboy, whose moral imperatives are pitted against exactly the mean streets Chandler talked about (first).  The disparity between the actual job and the official job description, sooner or later, destroys the person who accepts the burdens shouldered by Kelly and Simone, and most especially Sipowicz, all of them bound to protect the public from knowledge of how their job is actually done…and doubly bound to get the job done more-than-less legally/cosmetically.

Milch goes on to say that New York City cops (into the 80s) were famously underpaid and overtasked with the burden of preserving the PR illusion of constitutionally-correct law enforcement, when the job involved something entirely else.

Ridley Scott’s commentary substantiates this (Milch/Clark) perspective in describing the Michael Douglas role in Black Rain,  by indicating that the life of a married policeman made divorce an inevitability, and that alimony/settlement always transformed the destitute cop into an aggressive participant in any form of lucrative corruption.  Scott presents the same point of view from a slightly different angle in Someone To Watch Over Me.

Serpico, The French Connection, Bullit and all of early Eastwood lean far in the direction of very ordinary men (played by rising superstars) bending the rule of law in pursuit of a purer definition of justice than law can quite conceive:  Circumstantial Justice, without the pomp.

So who. exactly, is it that dotes on a very long succession of successful movies and television shows about super-detectives and dolts?  And why?

I’ve got no reasonable answer to the question posed in your post, but I’ve been thinking that nearly all productions are financed by people/organizations that exert considerable control over the final product.  It seems reasonable to suggest that We the People (out here in the dark) are only fictively the primary audience for putative works of Hollywood cinematic and video art.  The real-er and far more influential audience is  “note”-delivering investment bankers, lawyers; board members and anti-creative old farts whose purse strings call the  shots.  The ultimate objective of investors doesn’t seem to be the creation of profoundly moving art, nor incisive and insightful visions of authentic reality.  They want, instead, maximal return on their investments.  So I’m going to guess that Kevin James and Seth Rogen portray moronic stand-ins for We-uns, The Paying Audience (dumbfucks), as visualized by (egomaniacal) Power.  And that they see themselves as Holmes, Monk, Columbo…

On the other hand, anything defamatory I’ve said about the Nikon Corporation is probably incorrect.  Yesterday I looked beyond their website, and actually called a phone number for Nikon’s Southern California plant.  The quarter-century-old lens information I’ve been seeking (in vain) for over a month was faxed to me in an instant, my bayonet plate was ordered, and a photocopy of the 1982 userguide will arrive in the mail next week. 

In the words of Emily Litella, I’m an idiot, and “never mind”.

Scott 

He answered; 

 

 

Scott, You have supplied the answer so elegantly, you made the problem disappear.  Wonderful.  Still, the account is too pessimistic for the likes of me.  It’s also a little implausible.  I know some people in the investment community and they just don’t know enough about culture to pull something like this off.  Best, Grant

I found that interpretation kind of flattering, but incomplete and partially off the point (if I had one [or only one]), so:

 

 

Grant,

Me too.  At no time did I intend to convey a sense of concerted conspiracy.  I think the revered leaders of all financial industries have amply demonstrated their incompetence at — Everything. 

They meddle, and thereby drive down the pre-existing value of everything they control.

Addison DeWitt (a true believer) explains to Eve Harrington all about The Theater in All About EveThe boundary between reality and make-believe is often vague, complex and tenuous.  It’s a line he attempts to migrate across with her later in the film.  The very same line has been repeatedly violated by Adelle DeWitt with Viktor in Dollhouse.

There’s a brief moment in which Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and Marilyn Monroe appear silent and alone in-frame together.It’s like a science class chart of the evolution of stars and careers in the wake of a golden era of make-believe.

 

I awoke at 4:30 this morning to watch Compulsion on AMC.  The 103minute film was presented in 2.5hours, to make possible the frequent repetition of the very same commercial advertisements, time and again.

Ads for ExtenZe, The Future of Classic, and Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser, shilling for a credit-consolidator) interrupted the movie intermittently at first, but as the plot thickened, the interruptions came more frequently, or perhaps they just annoyed me more keenly.  If this is The Future of Classic movie presentation on AMC, it’s a bona fide abomination.  The debatable pre-existing value of the movie (at least as a touchstone) for numerous cultural allusions to Leopold and Loeb is in no way enhanced by frequent AMC interruptions to present the same very-lame commercials, again and again and again.

 

Tracy’s Darrow in Inherit the Wind was a great deal better than Welles’, but no matter who delivers the speech, how does one not love to parody Darrow’s summation:

 

“this terrible crime was inherent in his organism, and it came from some barbaric ancestor… Is any blame attached

because somebody took Milton Friedman’s philosophy seriously and fashioned his life upon it?…

it is hardly fair to hang ten thousand financial whiz-kids for the philosophy that was taught him at the university (of Chicago).”

 

They meddle.  We meddle. 

We make it slightly more interesting.  They make it vastly more costly. —–Scott

 

 

(Post Script) Sent from a cell phone. Please forgive brevity and bad spelling.

The work is done.  You just need a TypePad account.  Actually I think WordPress might be better. 

I’ve had WordPress since the start of the writers’ strike (to post at United Hollywood).  There seems to be something I’m not understanding.  Are you suggesting that I post this conversation at your blog under Dolts in Toyland?

Scott

 

No, I’m suggestion that you post your thoughts, as expressed in our conversations, as often and as widely as possible.  They are too good to be wasted on the likes of me.  which is not to say I am not grateful to have had a “first look.” 

Aw shucks.  I’m predisposed to see the stuff I say as unsupported looniness, but okay.

Scott

 And that’s how this bloglike thing got started.

Nah.  Most of the stuff I said was conversational, and intended to tip you off to stuff I’ve been finding that might pique your fancy…attempts at returning the favors you do us all by referencing so allfired many things several times each month, for a long, long while.

And editing that conversational junk into a blog-comment format?  Seems a hell of a lot like work.

Thanks, though. —–Scott

 

 Again too pessimesstic for my tastes but tell me please tell me you posted it. Best!  —–GrantHis next blog post inspired me to another email message, largely because the film in question isn’t and won’t be on my agenda — I wrote:

14 Apr 09 Posted by | Uncategorized | 10 Comments