Monday, October 5, 2015

cynosure links

---What Orwellian Really Means

---First and Final Frames: Part 2

---Hell's Club

---Ridley Scott narrates a scene from The Martian

---"The films of a century ago may look like a foreign landscape, but 1915 was the year when cinema, as we now know it, was born."  --Pamela Hutchinson

---"Social Media Self-Defense" via @Snowden

---filmmaking tips from Martin Scorsese

---Andy Weir recommends some science fiction titles

---"Whatever your hopes or fears about movies and their influence, there is no doubt that they shape us. But can they be the equivalent of literature, something complex that given our deep attention fires all the right neurons making us somehow better? Can movies cure what ails us?" --Shari Kizirian

---Cinephilia and Beyond celebrates Bonnie and Clyde

---George Miller's masterclass in filmmaking

---"In North By Northwest during the scene on Mount Rushmore, I wanted Cary Grant to hide in Lincoln’s nostril and then have a fit of sneezing.

The Parks Commission of the Department of Interior was rather upset at this thought.

I argued until one of their number asked me how I would like it if they had Lincoln play the scene in Cary Grant’s nose.

I saw their point at once." --Alfred Hitchcock

---the 21st century's 12 best novels (according to the BBC)

---"Last week, a coalition of environmental and financial groups announced that more than two thousand individuals, four hundred institutions, and Leonardo DiCaprio had agreed to divest their financial holdings, which total 2.6 trillion dollars, from fossil fuels." --Katy Lederer

---trailers for Vinyl, Spectre, and Mistress America

---the opening of Raging Bull

---Greta Gerwig discusses Mistress America

---Nathaniel R's first impressions of Todd Haynes' Carol

---"The movie’s a personal favorite of mine—on the night I got canned from my job at the website for the defunct Premiere magazine back in 2008, I started a blog that I named after the movie. As for why, it’s a hard question to answer exactly. It’s not just my regard for the movie itself, but also that the movie pulls together a lot of my own enthusiasms, and the enthusiasms associated with film itself. A cursory look beneath its gorgeous surfaces reveal all manner of cultural correspondences and themes that make it look like a crucial cynosure of 20th Century concerns. The books that Dave pulls out of his duffel bag when he checks into the hotel—The Portable Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe—evoke a whole world of American Aspiration, and also bring to mind some of literary critic (and World War II veteran) Paul Fussell’s observations on the 'greatest generation,' observations made well before Tom Brokaw coined that term. Director Minnelli’s work was greatly admired and occasionally deplored by the future directors of the French New Wave, and Jean-Luc Godard included a pointed Some Came Running reference in his own house-of-mirrors attempt at commercial cinema, 1963’s Contempt. Then, of course, there’s the fact that the movie is, in a sense, the story of a has-been writer. But let’s not read too much into that." --Glenn Kenny

---Brian De Palma and Noah Baumbach talk about a scene in Dressed to Kill

---Willie Promo via Fandor's Keyframe Daily

Friday, October 2, 2015

"What good is the right to free speech?": a review of Laura Poitras' Citizenfour

I was stunned by Laura Poitras' Oscar-winning Citizenfour, both for its seeming nonchalance and its intensity, and because Poitras manages to pack so much tension and paranoia into scenes in which very little is going on. For much of the first half of the documentary, we mostly watch Edward Snowden hang around a nice hotel room in Hong Kong during the summer of 2013. He talks with Glenn Greenwald and a reporter from The Guardian, types on his laptop, watches the news as his release of top secret NSA-related information gradually dominates the worldwide press, tries to fix his hair, and occasionally looks out the window at the Hong Kong skyline much as Scarlett Johansson's character Charlotte did in Lost in Translation (2003).

Edward keeps insisting, in a distinctively low-key way that the powers-that-be will want to twist the story of the NSA's lies and transgressions in regards to our privacy into one that concerns him and his "crimes" alone, but I couldn't help fixating on his intelligent brandless demeanor. At first he wears a white t-shirt and jeans. He wonders about what to do about his stubble. One can sense that he's getting a bit uncertain and nervous about what will happen to him (later he goes underground, and (as we know) resurfaces somewhat in Russia), but meanwhile he lets Greenwald and others tell the story of the NSA as they will. Due to his job, Mr. Snowden had access to amazing amounts of top secret information flowing across his computer screen, including real-time drone footage. We also learn that people with that kind of access can focus on our data stream in real-time, tracking our phone calls, computer communications, purchases with a credit card, etc. We might get used to having our privacy violated in this way for the good of "national security," but as Citizenfour keeps asking us--at what cost? Do we have freedom of speech under total surveillance, or does the entire concept of freedom get cancelled out in the midst of the Patriot Act curtailment of civil liberties? When I bring up the idea with friends, they tend to assume that no one will ultimately care about whatever data stream they leave behind, but Citizenfour never allows that kind of complacency to reduce its tension.

Meanwhile, as Snowden comes clean as the whistleblower and appears talking on video in the international press, the US authorities charge him with several crimes under the Espionage Act, in effect accusing him of being a spy. We see him suddenly getting lots of phone calls from mysterious people, so he hides out (now wearing a black suit) for a while in Laura Poitras' hotel room to get away from media scrutiny. I was struck by the movie's postmodern sense of drama. Mr. Snowden need not engage in a car chase, evade machine gunfire, or dally with some supermodel to gain worldwide attention. In fact, Citzenfour emphasizes how all of those Bond cliches have become passe. So many people, media outlets, corporations, and governments use so many dubious and increasingly desperate devices to gain attention and thereby attempt to influence others. In dramatic contrast, Snowden does next to nothing on screen as the dark implications of his release of information continues to spread today.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Between rage and sympathy: a review of Jonathan Franzen's Purity

For whatever reason, I developed a serious taste for Jonathan Franzen's work over the summer, rereading and admiring his The Corrections (2001), kind of enjoying his footnotes in the obscure The Kraus Project (2013), and now rereading his new book Purity and reconsidering my initial distaste for its sometimes surprisingly commercial blend of murder, East German Stasi intrigues, and a really annoying feminist character named Annabel who argues with her husband Tom in a tinny, righteous, hectoring way for too many pages. Annabel proves so overpowering a presence in the novel, I've started to wonder if Franzen decided to distill all of his prickly intolerant overbearing tendencies into one insufferable woman.

But, then again, I like Franzen's Cassandra-like rage against the demented, distracted, and delusional quality of postmodern life. When he's grinding his axe on a topic like overpopulation and our collective blindness to the seriousness of its effects on the environment, it almost makes up for the overly drawn-out romantic triangle plot of Freedom (2010). At times, Franzen seems dead on target with a rant like this from The Kraus Project:

"I could, its true, make a larger apocalyptic argument about the logic of the machine, which in Kraus's day was still localized in Europe and America but has now gone global and is accelerating the denaturization of the planet and sterilization of its oceans. I could point to the transformation of Canada's boreal forest into a toxic lake of tar-sand by-products, the leveling of Asia's remaining forests for Chinese-made ultra-low-cost porch furniture at Home Depot, the damning of the Amazon and the endgame clear-cutting of its forests for beef and mineral production, the whole mind-set of 'Screw the consequences, we want to buy a lot of crap and we want it cheap, with overnight free shipping,' and the direct connection between this American mindset and a new Chinese prosperity that--in a classic Krausian collision of old values with new valuables--funds the slaughter of millions of Pacific sharks for the luxury of their fins and tens of thousands of African elephants for their ivory. And meanwhile the overheating of the atmosphere, meanwhile the calamitous overuse of antibiotics by agribusiness, meanwhile the widespread tinkering with cell nucleii, which may prove to be as disastrous as tinkering with atomic nucleii. And, yes, the thermonuclear warheads are still in their silos and subs" (274-5).

Meanwhile, Purity mostly focuses on the story of a 25 year old woman named Pip who sometimes reminds the reader of her namesake in Dickens' Great Expectations (1861). Pip begins the novel with an exploitative job selling pseudo-environmental solutions on the phone. She has massive amounts of student debt, a crush on an older married man, and a charismatic Julian Assange-like man's interest in her from his compound in Bolivia. By weaving together chapters that take on different points of view (many of the characters experiencing rising amounts of anxiety for one reason or another), Franzen can explore all kinds of topics--our lack of privacy, the way that fame can poison one's soul even as most everyone wants more attention, a writer who drinks much bourbon and lounges around in his boxers all day in an attempt to write a "big" novel, a missing nuclear warhead in Texas that takes on Dr. Strangelove reverberations as a white trash couple uses it to heighten their lovemaking, and the deadly effects of the Internet (as he writes, "The aim of the Internet and its associated technologies was to 'liberate' humanity from tasks--making things, learning things, remembering things--that had previously given meaning to life and thus had constituted life. Now it seemed as if the only task that meant anything was search-engine optimization" (492).

As much as Franzen finds ways to dissect postmodern American existential angst, I missed the tight structure of the two parents and the three grown children all exemplifying the split between the east coast pretensions and the midwest blandness of The CorrectionsPurity still has its moments where Franzen's satirical vision summarizes our landscape. For instance, take this scene in Texas from the point of view of the 50-something journalist named Leila:

"To drive east on Amarillo Boulevard was to pass, in quick succession, the high-security Clements Unit prison complex, the McCaskill meat-processing facility, and the Pantex nuclear-weapons plant, three massive installations more alike than different in their brute utility and sodium-vapor lighting. In the rear-view mirror were the evangelical churches, the Tea Party precincts, the Whataburgers. Ahead, the gas and oil wells, the fracking rigs, the overgrazed ranges, the feedlots, the depleted aquifer. Every facet of Amarillo a testament to a nation of bad-ass firsts; first in prison population, first in meat consumption, first in operational strategic warheads, first in per-capita carbon emissions, first in line for the Rapture. Whether American liberals liked it or not, Amarillo was how the rest of the world saw their country" (173).

This x-ray vision of our debased culture suits me well (I especially like the sodium-vapor lighting equalizing all three facilities), but for some reason Purity keeps returning to the carping of Annabel who torments her overly sweet husband Tom with her artistic sense of injustice, her rejection of her family's billions of blood money made from meat processing, and her dislike of the world as it is. Perhaps we are meant to see some actual purity in all of Annabel's rejections and in Pip's search for a better way of life free from her parent's psychodramas. Franzen's fiction works best, as it sometimes does in Purity, when he finds a balance between his hyper-critical rage and his more sympathetic examination of our inner lives.

Friday, August 7, 2015

data dread links

---Marty's reaction to Season 2 of True Detective

---Hunter S. Thompson discusses the Hells Angels

---"Nonetheless, increasingly, as a black woman in America, I do not feel alive. I feel like I am not yet dead." --Roxane Gay

---Chuck Jones--The Evolution of an Artist

---"For most movie stars, comedy typically derives from inserting the actor into a strange or outrageous situation, allowing him or her to react. . . .  But in Tom Cruise movies, the setup is inverted: He is the strangeness that the rest of the world must contend with." --Steven Hyden

---filmmaking tips from John Waters

---trailers for Horse Money, The Revenant, Sisters, Suicide Squad, Dark PlacesVinyland By the Sea

---"The Modern American Indie" by Calum Marsh

---"The Romantic Comedy Spectrum: A Reading List"

---"The underlying assumption is that people don’t want to have to choose among different ways of choosing to be informed — that is, of different ways to seek, evaluate, and assimilate information. They don’t want to have to be; they just want to scroll. Scrolling is perfect in that it satisfies a users’ need for action and their need for boredom, as a spur for further action. It sustains desire in an ideological cultural climate that tells us over and over again that 'desiring' (particularly in the form of the money or attention we have to spend) is what makes us desirable, interesting; that our desire is what makes us powerful, not the choices we ultimately end up making on account of it." --Rob Horning

---Hiroshima by John Hersey

---Dune complete

---"That's What Happened Between Me and Clark" by Anne Helen Petersen

---"I do think there’s a system we’ve created in the wake of 9/11 — these kinds of secret processes...that flags people, and there are people who are not really looking to review it — therefore, once you get caught in this system, there’s no way out of it. It’s sort of like this Kafkaesque system that exists and is self-perpetuating. Once somebody, like, points at something, nobody ever reviews it, and you’re just there." --Laura Poitras

---"16 incredible long takes"

---"Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here"

---an oral history of Deliverance

---"This means that more data has been created and stored since the turn of the millennium than in the entire history of humanity. Metaphors for information overload tend to fall into two categories: those that suggest addiction or lack of self-control, such as infomania, datamania, infobesity, databesity, dataholism, infostress, dataddiction, infovorism, datadithering, data dread; and those that suggest natural disaster, such as datanami, datageddon, dataclypse, data deluge, data smog, infoglut, information saturation, data swamp, drowning in data." --Paul Stephens