Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Notable film and media links--September 8, 2009

---The difficulties of marketing Ellen Page.

---The avant-guarde art(?) of YouTube.

---Libraries no longer need books:

“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. “This isn’t ‘Fahrenheit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’

---Instead of reading books, we can revel in our fully augmented new reality even as print desperately tries to defend itself from the ever-encroaching internet.

---Some somehow manage to outgrow Facebook while others cannot stop seeking:

"But to Washington State University neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, this supposed pleasure center didn't look very much like it was producing pleasure. Those self-stimulating rats, and later those humans, did not exhibit the euphoric satisfaction of creatures eating Double Stuf Oreos or repeatedly having orgasms. The animals, he writes in Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions, were "excessively excited, even crazed." The rats were in a constant state of sniffing and foraging. Some of the human subjects described feeling sexually aroused but didn't experience climax. Mammals stimulating the lateral hypothalamus seem to be caught in a loop, Panksepp writes, "where each stimulation evoked a reinvigorated search strategy" (and Panksepp wasn't referring to Bing).

It is an emotional state Panksepp tried many names for: curiosity, interest, foraging, anticipation, craving, expectancy. He finally settled on seeking. Panksepp has spent decades mapping the emotional systems of the brain he believes are shared by all mammals, and he says, "Seeking is the granddaddy of the systems." It is the mammalian motivational engine that each day gets us out of the bed, or den, or hole to venture forth into the world. It's why, as animal scientist Temple Grandin writes in Animals Make Us Human, experiments show that animals in captivity would prefer to have to search for their food than to have it delivered to them.

For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.

The juice that fuels the seeking system is the neurotransmitter dopamine. The dopamine circuits "promote states of eagerness and directed purpose," Panksepp writes. It's a state humans love to be in. So good does it feel that we seek out activities, or substances, that keep this system aroused—cocaine and amphetamines, drugs of stimulation, are particularly effective at stirring it."

---A. O. Scott contemplates the authentic woman in Almodovar's All About My Mother.

---Big city alienation and U2's video for "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight."

---Truman Capote explains Holly Golightly.

---Recession-worthy living: Sean Dunne's Man in Van.

---TimeOut London compiles the "50 greatest directorial debuts of all time."

---Charlize Theron tries to laugh off rude Zach.

---The scrap metal aesthetics of Shane Acker's 9.

---The Guardian exhibits Paul Newman as The Times shares some playful Charlie Chaplin/Alistair Cooke footage.

---Lastly, Fox of Tractor Facts considers the Godardian colors of Gamer as Richard Brody unveils a scene with Godard at play.

12 comments:

Media Mentions said...

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MediaMentions

Ed Howard said...

Love that scene that Brody's touting. Godard's slapstick, silent comedy performance in Keep Your Right Up is brilliant. He could've been a great physical comedian, I think. I wish there was more of that stuff in the movie, like the great gag seen in that YouTube video, where he jumps headfirst into a car through its passenger window. The movie as a whole is uneven but certainly worth seeing. (Hey, it's JLG, that goes without saying, no?)

FilmDr said...

Thanks for the link, Media Mentions.

Ed,

I was stunned by how playful Godard is in that film. It also reminded me of silent film comedy techniques. While I have vast admiration for Jean-Luc, there are some films of his I have not finished. I could only take so much of One or Two Things before turning off the TV, and yet A Bout de souffle is one of my all-time favorites.

Ed Howard said...

I know people have this image of Godard as a dour, preachy intellectual, but the fact is he's always had that playful, whimsical streak in his work, to one degree or another. If you'd stuck with 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her -- along with A Married Woman, one of Godard's best 60s films -- you would've seen the hilarious scene where a bizarre sexual ritual is compared to the motions of a construction crane, for one thing. Godard was rarely as open about his love of slapstick comedy as he is in Keep Your Right Up -- though his unforgettable appearance as "Professor Pluggy" in King Lear comes close -- but he often indulged his deadpan wit and visual humor, especially in his 80s films. (Detective is another very funny one.) His work, even the most dense and complex films of his late 60s period, is frequently very entertaining, as well as intellectually stimulating, if you're open to it.

FilmDr said...

Good points, Ed. I still wonder though whether American critics are sometimes blind to Godard's weaknesses in part due to his bad-ass auteur accomplishments, and in part due to the way he transmutes American cinematic culture in a funhouse French mirror. Do we view Godard in the same way the French view Jerry Lewis? Do we let some dull, politically-didactic scenes slide because of general Godard-worship? How about a film like Le Petit Soldat? Does it hold up (if at all) because of the topical nature of torture? There are extended scenes in Masculine Feminine which I find insufferable, but do some of Godard's films flatter us for having the intellectual prowess for sitting through them? I sometimes wonder if Godard is a kind of intellectual's Ed Wood.

Admittedly, I should watch more of his movies to really know to judge.

Ed Howard said...

Hmmm, I don't really feel like Godard gets much of a free pass from critics; if anything it's the opposite. Too much of his work, especially post-1968, is easily dismissed these days as, yes, "politically didactic" or even just boring. But I think JLG is actually rarely didactic -- except in some of the Dziga-Vertov Group films, and even there not entirely. The political ideas in his films are usually presented as dialectics, as debates and conflicts between opposing ideas, and he's always engaging in self-questioning critiques, the enemy of didacticism. Even La Chinoise, which people who haven't seen it tend to think of as a tiresome Maoist apologia, is actually all about the limits of radicalism, about young students who don't fully understand the political ideologies they're embracing, and about the conflict between different ways of approaching political consciousness. I think Godard's politics and ideas are much more complex and nuanced than they're given credit for.

So with that in mind, no, I don't Godard is flattering us just for being able to sit through his films. He's interested in a cinema of ideas, and he wants to provoke thought and discussion, to challenge audiences. Maybe that doesn't always carry through -- over at my blog, Marilyn Ferdinand and I have been discussing whether or not challenging cinema like this can really connect with audiences -- but I think the intellectual inquiries in Godard's films are genuine, and genuinely worth grappling with.

As for the 2 films you specifically mention, I think Le petit soldat is a surprisingly straightforward early work from Godard, when he was still settling a lot of his own ideas and aesthetics. It's not a bad film by any means, but I wouldn't consider it among his best. It does deal with torture, though, and also with the fragility of political ideals, themes that would carry through much of Godard's later work. Masculin feminin on the other hand is a masterpiece. I'm occasionally frustrated by the characters -- which you're supposed to be, since Godard is again mocking their shallow understanding of things -- but never by the film, which is utterly charming and inventive in its structure.

Hokahey said...

"When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. “This isn’t ‘Fahrenheit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’

This is shocking and discouraging - as I sit here during my free period at school - my 24th year of teaching 8th graders and seniors how to read perceptively and write effectively.

Every year it gets harder. More students have trouble writing with pencil and paper. I find fewer students I can call on to read aloud fluently. I find, each year, students getting farther and farther away from a functional mastery of their own language. I find foreign students who can write English better than many American students. I find fewer and fewer students who like to read.

I feel that my job is to carry on the torch that represents a love of reading and writing - but fewer students carry on the torch.

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Ed, for your instructive comments. I confess that I mostly have seen Godard's 1960s films, and I have much to learn about the later ones (even though I have been reading Richard Brody' biography of Godard). Could you recommend a particular 1980s film?

I know exactly what you mean, Hokahey. One feels like one is teaching an ancient esoteric skill. The social media gurus claim that texting and e-mail encourages writing, but as long as students tend to forgo reading books in favor of video games, watching videos on the internet, and Facebooking, then they often have difficulty with deep critical reading and constructing a coherent and nuanced paragraph. I'm lucky to have top-notch students, but no matter how bright they are, one can never assume anything about their ability to write. I sometimes wonder if they would benefit from staying away from the internet, and only having books around to amuse and instruct them. Movies are so well-designed to distract students, it sometimes seems hard for them to learn to appreciate good writing.

There are times when I get burned out on movies, and want to revel in words alone. I'm already rereading Lorrie Moore's brilliant new novel A Gate at the Stairs.

Ed Howard said...

Hmmm well my favorite 80s Godard is King Lear, which unfortunately isn't very easy to see; if you ever get a chance to see that screened anywhere, as it was recently at BAM in NY, leap at it. So as a second choice I'd heartily recommend First Name: Carmen, another masterpiece, which is available in that cheap 4-film Lions Gate box set (which also includes Detective, Passion and Helas pour moi, so it's a great starter set for later Godard in general). I'd also recommend Detective, which actually isn't a personal favorite but does demonstrate a much lighter, goofier side of JLG to some degree.

I also totally agree with you guys about the importance of books. A bookless library is utterly idiotic, and I really hope that others see this as absurd as it is, and that this doesn't become a new trend. Even if digital is the future for reading everything (which I'm by no means sold on) the technology is nowhere near the level now where we can think about dispensing with books altogether. I like the feel of a book in my hands, and reading a novel on computer screens would be unbearable.

Hokahey said...

FilmDr - Thanks for your response. I teach A.P. English to seniors - so they should be top notch - yet they don't have much of a passion for reading or writing. They do it as grunt work to get the grade and the credit for A.P. for their college transcript, but they aren't excited about reading.

Also, thanks for the tip on the new book. I've been despairing about the recent releases. Seems like it's all mysteries or vampire romances. It's hard to find a compelling new novel.

Wow Gold said...

Very Nice Blog

FilmDr said...

Thanks, Ed. I'll watch First Name: Carmen.

Hokahey,

I don't know if you would like A Gate at the Stairs or not. The novel is a little thin on plot, but it is extremely well-written, a nice return to form for Lorrie Moore.

Thanks, Wow Gold.