Saturday, July 31, 2010

Cinema and the eye: a portfolio

What is the relationship between the viewer and the eye on screen? Why are we so psychologically sensitive to images of the eye? Because we are watching?

Joel Bocko started a meme with Stephen of Checking My Sausages inviting us to compile images that celebrate the thrill of cinema. Participants in the meme include Jason Bellamy, Sheila O'Malley, and Andrew of Gateway Cinephiles, who kindly tagged me.

Here's my contribution.

Lastly, the meme obliges me to tag five fellow bloggers: Craig, Hokahey, Nathaniel, Kelli, and Dr. K are all invited.

Idiot allegiances: Dinner for Schmucks

Talk about cognitive dissonance. Dinner for Schmucks has everything not going for it. I normally cannot stand geek/nerd movies because they contribute to a rampant devolutionary trend that needs no reinforcement. Haven't we had enough films glorifying losers to satisfy the immature male demographic?

Armed with these prejudices and more, I went to see Dinner for Schmucks and found that I . . . liked it. I was confounded. The reaction made no sense. I couldn't stand the trailer, with Steve Carell as Barry mugging and bulging his eyes with a buck-toothed grin. He plays a geek who expresses himself by mounting stuffed mice in various cutesy dioramas, i.e. a mouse couple sunbathing, another flying in a ballon. Some are based on archetypal paintings--The Last Supper, Whistler's Mother, The Scream, etc. Over time, we learn that there's a romantic wistfulness to these tableaus that reflects how Barry's IRS boss Therman (Zach Galifianakis) stole his wife.

The plot of Dinner with Schmucks (adapted from the French film The Dinner Game) concerns several business executives who like to compete with each other in bringing the biggest idiot to a dinner for the group's amusement. Seeking advancement to the level of these executives, analyst Tim (Paul Rudd) agrees to find a moron for that purpose, but his girlfriend and possible fiancee Julie (Stephanie Szostack) does not approve. Once Tim allows Barry into his life because he would make a perfect guest for the dinner, Barry keeps accidentally sabotaging Tim's romantic and professional concerns much as Katherine Hepburn's character did to Cary Grant's in Bringing Up Baby. Instead of a leopard, however, Dinner for Schmucks features the "wild" artist Kieran (Jemaine Clement of The Flight of the Conchords) who threatens to steal Julie away from Tim. Kieran likes to wear hooves and photograph himself growling, romping around with nymphs, and eating an octopus. Barry also accidentally invites Tim's long-term stalker Darla (Lucy Punch) into his apartment, so she ends up posing another threat to Tim's relationship with Julie.

Why does the film succeed? For five reasons:

1) Rudd has played straight man to Carell's goofball before in The 40 Year Old Virgin, and their comic timing has improved. I still find the increasingly omnipresent Zach Galifianakis funny, and the film is sweetly written by David Guion and Michael Handelman and ably directed by Jay Roach.

2) Dinner succeeds by playing with the viewer's prejudices about idiots. Instead of just having the audience laugh at Barry, the film stresses the monstrousness of the executives who need ridiculous people around to laugh at, thereby establishing an odd tension in the humor. At one point, Barry points out to Tim that "Sometimes I think you think that I'm an idiot," and the comment draws him up short. Even the arrival of the pitiable stalker Laura humanizes her. When she gets angry, she tells Tim that "Some day I'm really going to leave you!," and the insertion of her point of view is not only funny but poignant. By the time events build (as in The Thin Man) to the dinner itself, the audience does not know where to place its allegiances--behind the suave executives or the more endearing idiots? Thus, the audience is obliged to go through some of the same soul-searching as Tim.

3.) Dinner even flirts with the possibility that Barry has got some sort of wisdom in his idiocy by playing the Beatles' "The Fool on the Hill" in the soundtrack and by having Barry stand in the edge of a pond in a manner reminiscent of the scene where Chance walks on the water in Being There (1979). However, Barry most emphatically does not walk on the water, and I think Jay Roach was smart not to take things too far in that holy fool direction. Instead, in many ways, Barry remains an overbearing, intrusive creep in the same vein as many of Jerry Lewis' comic creations. The balance in Barry's characterization is critical for the success of the film.

4) Schmucks calls attention to the soul-killing insanity of Tim jockeying for position in the corporate hierarchy by providing a parallel subplot involving Therman's hold over Barry at the IRS. Therman practices a form of mind control that proves very effective over Barry, obliging him to freeze up and confess his inability to find his wife's clitoris because he thinks she lost it in her purse. The whole scene mocks the power a boss holds over an underling, a form of hypnosis that has doubtless gotten stronger with the recent mass drop in employment.

5) Ultimately, for Tim especially, Dinner for Schmucks is a comedy about the difficulty of being genuine, and the dangers of judging others, even if they happen to be comically unself-aware. By intelligently depicting stupidity, the movie disarms even this critic, who still cannot fully understand why he likes it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

July links

---one masculine reaction to Eat, Pray, Love

---world, girl, repeat

---the films of Nash Edgerton

---Peggy Nelson's thoughts on the etiquette of the flow:

"We’re beginning to inhabit ad hoc, overlapping, always-on virtual salons — you’re talking to someone, and then you both get pulled off into different directions, to form different shapes and vectors within the conversations, and then come together again, having never really been apart. You can even have multiple conversations via multiple media with the same person in the same span of time. Single conversations are one-dimensional chess; our language games have increased in complexity. And, potentially, in reward. Because with its ability to feel distant stories in a more personal manner, the expanded self points a way towards those stories becoming more relevant, and perhaps more actionable.

How might this apply to storytelling? It does not necessarily mean that every story must be, or will become, hopelessly fragmented, or that a game mentality can or should replace analysis. It does mean that everyone is potentially a participant in the conversation, instead of just an audience member or consumer at the receiving end. I think the shift in perspective from point to connection enables a wider and more participatory storytelling environment, rather than dictating the shape of stories that flow in the spaces.

Some of those stories include the Enough Fear campaign, which exploited the phone’s potential to collapse global distance by setting up phones near the Boston Common, connected to phones in Iran. Passers-by could chat for a few minutes about politics or whatever they wished.

Then there is the “backchannel,” or what Jay Rosen calls by the somewhat unwieldy name of “audience atomization overcome.” Common at conferences but not limited to those venues, backchannels are text-based chat streams used to discuss, argue with, or otherwise engage the current talk or event as it occurs. It is a way for members of the audience to host a rapid-fire prototyping of the ideas presented. Twitter is the backchannel medium of the moment, although different technologies have served that purpose in the past. Thanks to Twitter backchannels identified by hashtags, I was able to participate with friends and audience members at some talks at SXSW this past year, despite being unable to attend in person."

---Inception's timeline, architecture, science, emotions, acting, sound design, its extended ending, and its placement amongst complex films.

---Christwire does not like hipsters

---our lives are reality shows

---Clive Thompson on no growth economics:

"But for all the troubling questions it raises, there's one thing you can say about steady-state thinking: It is almost cosmically ambitious. Given how numb and static the world's economic arguments have become, no-growth theory is a rare beast: a vision of social change that is genuinely radical, almost jaw-droppingly so. Even talking about such ideas, Victor admits in his book, "could make a politician unelectable." The no-growthers regard their job not as promoting specific policies, but widening the field of debate. "I want to make it possible just to start to think about growth and its role in economic thought," Victor told me.

Is the world ready, or even interested, in such unorthodox ideas? The new crop of books hasn't provoked the sort of backlash that Limits once did. Jackson suspects that climate change may have made us more receptive. As he's traveled around giving talks on his book, some politicians and businessmen have grudgingly admitted that hyping growth has created real problems—even if they can't quite endorse the solutions. "The response often is that my logic is faultless," Jackson told me, "but the policy recommendations are bonkers." He also suspects no-growth theory is still so marginal that it hasn't attracted much attention—no best-sellers this time—but should it gain political momentum, the attacks will come.

Daly, who's been arguing his case for four decades, has begun to think that only the Earth itself will compel people to act. In a few decades, if basic resources become scarce, prices spike, and climate change is causing global conflict, no-growth thinking could arrive whether we like it or not. "It'll be forced on us," he says. In the end, when it comes to determining the shape of our economy, the planet may possess the most powerful invisible hand of all."

---the Caravaggio and the Lady Gaga effect

---@CraigatPorlock proves that Jon Turteltaub is the new David Lean without even seeing The Sorcerer's Apprentice (which strikes me as the best way).

---@CoolerCinema deconstructs Salt

---amongst recent trailers, Certified Copy seems to be pretentious, but Tamara Drewe, Sucker Punch, Priest, and The Company Men all look intriguing.

---Razzle Dazzle, Pt. 5: The Maverick

---Joseph Gordon Levitt gets mean

---"Because we are visual":

Die Zeit: “Do you concern yourself with new media and technology?”

Jean-Luc Godard: “I try to keep up. But people make films on the Internet to show that they exist, not in order to see something."

---lastly, Jane Austen's Fight Club and the evil that women do

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The perpetual escape: Angelina Jolie in Salt

Beginning with some unnecessary torture porn in a North Korean prison and climaxing with some cheesy nuclear gamesmanship in a far less impressive war room than the one in Dr. Strangelove, Salt works best on one level: run Jolie run. See Jolie jump. Like Houdini slipping out of his chains, CIA agent Evelyn Salt (Jolie) eludes, evades, and outfoxes a CIA dragnet once a Russian defector Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) accuses her of being a Russian spy. As security cameras observe her movements, she blocks them with spray from a fire extinguisher, bullets, and even her underwear, leaving her fellow agent Peabody (Chiwetel Ejoifor) exasperated and Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber) saying "Get your panties off the camera." Is Salt a Russian agent? Will she kill the Russian president in the midst of the U.S. Vice President's big funeral in a cathedral in New York City?

I heard that Tom Cruise was originally meant to have Jolie's role in Salt, and one can find some odd correlations between this film and the forgettable Knight and Day (although Jolie requires no Cameron Diaz sidekick). Both movies feature black CIA vehicles pursuing a rogue agent on the highway and a big motorcycle chase scene. Also, Peter Sarsgaard has a role in Knight that is very similar to Schreiber's in Salt, but I much preferred the spaghetti freeway escapes that Salt pulls off. One can't help imagining that to hop from an overpass into speeding traffic is suicidal, but Salt jumps onto a semi with ease, and then skips to a tank truck, and then bops onto a smaller panel truck where she does at least dangle off of the side by one hand. She effectively turns the freeway into her own personal playground. Later, in handcuffs, she shrugs off a car full of police in part by tazing one fellow into accelerating the car off an overpass and plunging down, peacefully landing on a bunch of vehicles far below, whereupon she walks away. I wonder how much scenes like this suit Jolie's fantasies of evading paparazzi? Whenever Ted Winter yells out "We need eyes" as Salt blocks the cameras, I was reminded of not only the Bourne series but also of the world's desire to see, photograph, and in a sense entrap Jolie at all times. The film perhaps reflects how Jolie handles fame, and why she might want to escape it.

Beyond all of the action set-pieces, Salt is still an overly-processed studio concoction loaded with too many canned plot twists and portentous flashbacks (Salt takes itself more seriously than Jolie's Wanted (2008)). Casting around for a villain, writer Kurt Wimmer dusts off a leftover cold war plot with a Soviet-trained camp of super-agents, the KA gang, bent upon destroying the United States for nostalgic reasons(?). Salt does have her human side (giving Jolie the opportunity to act, exude tears, etc.), because she did get married and she has a cute Benjy-like dog.

Otherwise, one can watch Salt's coolness quotient ratchet up every time she kills someone dispassionately. In constant movement, she never has to pause to think. Instead, she just acts, instinctively stealing a hat or an outfit, dying her hair, or blowing up a building effortlessly. Episodically, the film casts around for ever more significant things for her to do (visit the president!). As a result of all this ramping up, suspense drains away, and the movie's plot mechanics look tired compared to those of last week's Inception. Ever the star, Angelina Jolie can move on, but Evelyn is still trapped in the conventions of Salt.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mad links

---the Mad Men women speak and Natasha Vargas-Cooper discusses Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp through 1960s America

---Rambo, First Blood Part II, The Musical

---Rob Walker's "When Funny Goes Viral":

"Hwang concedes the metajoke aspect of that first conference in 2008: wouldn’t it be funny and weird to create an event about things on the Internet that are funny and weird? The punch line is that their idea was prescient. Moot, the founder, who has since revealed his name as Christopher Poole, recently gave a talk at a TED Conference, a gathering of tech and business insiders. There, he explained the origins of Internet foolishness like Lolcats and Rickrolling to its well-heeled, big-thinking audience. Hwang spoke at this year’s South by Southwest Music and Media Conference on the subject of “homemade-flamethrower videos” on YouTube. The department of media, culture and communication at New York University brought in a trio of performers for the main event at its undergraduate conference this winter to give a presentation called MemeFactory, a fast-paced talk with three slide projectors running simultaneously, addressing practically every stupid joke — or Internet meme, to use the common catch-all term — that’s ricocheted across the Web in the past 10 years.

Like practically everything else, people fooling around is transformed by the online context. Consider Rickrolling. As many (but probably not all) of you know, this involves suggesting that a point being made online will be backed up, or refuted, if you click on what appears to be a relevant link; instead, the link takes you to a video for Rick Astley’s 1987 hit, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” This prank became such a fad that it was referenced in the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, with Astley himself on hand to live-Rickroll the audience. Or consider Lolcats (LOL meaning “laugh out loud”), which even the most casual Internet user has probably come across: funny pictures of cats, made funnier by a pidgin-English phrase in big block letters, joined in what’s referred to as “image macro.” The Mona Lisa (or maybe the Duchamp “Fountain”) of Lolcats shows a chubby feline with a plaintive expression, asking, “I can has cheezburger?” A Seattle entrepreneur named Ben Huh, who now owns, has made Lolcats the cornerstone of a multimillion-dollar business, producing several books and a slew of similar sites. Not coincidentally, mainstream publishers have paid six-figure advances to total unknowns in hopes of converting ROFL to revenue; CBS is turning some guy’s crude-humor Twitter feed into a sitcom.

So, yes, young people have been messing around forever. But the results have seldom ended up attracting deals with major media companies, sparking discussions at confabs like TED or been included alongside Kermit and Santa Claus in a literal parade of broadly recognizable iconography."

---Peter Travers interviews a cheerful Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Moreover, David Hudson links to everything related to Inception, and Catherine Grant shares everything scholarly on Christopher Nolan.

---Kenneth Hagin goes wild (thanks to @GreatDismal)

---Bill Murray's GQ interview

---Twitter and the Oakland riots

---Henry Jenkins interviews Chuck Tryon about the effects of the web on film criticism:

"Much has been written about the fact that there is no longer a Pauline Kael among film critics. Instead, our most well known critic today is Roger Ebert, who has moved from television to the blogs and Twitter as platforms for sharing his views on film. Behind Ebert, there is an army of film bloggers who are sharing their thoughts about cinema. Is the result a stronger or weaker film culture? What do you see as the strengths and limitations of these two configurations of film criticism?

To some extent, I think it's easy to romanticize the past and the contributions of critics such as Pauline Kael, Andrew Sarris, and Susan Sontag, especially when so many newspapers and magazines are either firing their film critics or relying upon freelance writers for their reviews. But this nostalgia for an earlier form of film criticism obscures some of the ways in which film blogs are helping to reinvent film culture.Because of my own experiences as a film blogger, I'm probably biased on this point, but I think that film blogs have strengthened film culture immensely, in part because those critics are now held accountable by the bloggers who read and respond to their reviews in highly public ways. But although there may be thousands of dedicated film bloggers, I think the blogosphere is structured in such a way that a small number of critics still wield a huge influence, such as Roger Ebert, A.O. Scott, and Harry Knowles. Similarly, many film bloggers, such as Karina Longworth and Matt Zoller Seitz, are often incorporated into more mainstream venues. At the same time, bloggers such as David Hudson aggregate the most significant film news on the web, directing the attention of readers to the most significant film news of the day, ensuring that most film critics and cinephiles will continue to have access to significant ideas about film as they are unfolding."

---Stephen Rowley's thoughts on Pauline Kael

---David Gelernter's theories concerning dream-logic and the internet:

"Many people believe that reality is one thing and your thoughts are something else. Reality is on the outside; the mental landscape created by your thoughts is inside your head, within your mind. (Assuming that you're sane.)

Yet we each hallucinate every day, when we fall asleep and dream. And when you hallucinate, your own mind redefines reality for you; "real" reality, outside reality, disappears. No computer will be able to think like a man unless it can hallucinate.

Many people believe that the thinker and the thought are separate. For many people, "thinking" means (in effect) viewing a stream of thoughts as if it were a PowerPoint presentation: the thinker watches the stream of his thoughts. This idea is important to artificial intelligence and the computationalist view of the mind. If the thinker and his thought-stream are separate, we can replace the human thinker by a computer thinker without stopping the show. The man tiptoes out of the theater. The computer slips into the empty seat. The PowerPoint presentation continues.

But when a person is dreaming, hallucinating — when he is inside a mind-made fantasy landscape — the thinker and his thought-stream are not separate. They are blended together. The thinker inhabits his thoughts. No computer will be able to think like a man unless it, too, can inhabit its thoughts; can disappear into its own mind.

What does this mean for the internet: will the internet ever think? Will an individual computer ever think?"

---the good old days when people used to retire

---the history of canned laughter

---the internet's effect on the way we communicate (thanks to @osulop):

"Even in the unstructured, verbal medium of the comments field, with no built-in retweet button and no formal system logging the repetitions, we see a number of people avoiding using their own words in order to instead “cast a vote” for someone else’s. They deliberately represent themselves as part of a countable mass (in this case, of devoted fans), rather than as an individuated person with a novel point of view. I have no idea how widespread this particular trend is, but I think it exemplifies an ongoing shift in the way online communication is done, one in which Twitter plays a big part (and I find no sign of people doing this prior to Twitter’s rise). The retweet has developed a draw above and beyond the mere ease of sharing it provides — it’s actually become a preferred way of communicating, at least in some circumstances. Twitter’s own display of the day’s “trending topics” regularly encourages massed groups of users to marshal themselves together and overwhelm the ranking with retweets, or with tweets containing some key phrase (sometimes celebrating a Jonas brother’s birthday, sometimes entering a viral publicity contest).

Another recent phenomenon has been the spread of voting systems and “Like” buttons across the web, spearheaded by Facebook and major social news-aggregating sites like Digg andReddit. Almost everywhere you go now, comments and content can be thumbed-up or Liked or otherwise publicly rated. Earlier this year, Youtube switched its age-old five-star video rating system for “Like” and ”Dislike” buttons. While removing all nuance from its rating system might look like a senseless dumbing-down, Youtube explained that it had perfectly good reasons for doing so: the vast majority of video ratings, it turns out, were either five stars or one star, so people in essence used the rating system as a like/dislike button anyway. By the same token, many websites’ comments sections already consist of a bunch of people saying largely the same few things over and over; why not cut the self-importance (the universal conviction that I have something special to say that everyone ought to hear) and consolidate the discussion to a few key points instead? Maybe the younger “internet-native” generation, long immersed in the web’s anonymous cacophony, is just recognizing this early, and gravitating toward kinds of expression that resemble throwing in a lot rather than standing on a soapbox. But we’re all increasingly using these more streamlined ways of communicating online. What’s worrisome is wondering if this might streamline how we can think and relate to others, too."

---Hartmut Bitomsky on cinema and death

---lastly, Joe Sacco's tale of unwanted immigrants

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The closed loop: 9 notes about the mysteries of Christopher Nolan's Inception

A film is a ribbon of dreams.” ---Orson Welles

"I'm not sure what I just saw, but I liked it." ---overheard after watching Inception

(note: spoilers)

While I had issues with some of its cynical/ cheesy The Spy Who Loved Me action scenes, I liked the way Inception provoked all kinds of associations and questions:

1) Some opening definitions:

inception: the act of planting an idea in someone's mind in his/her subconsciousness via a dream (or dreams).

architect: the designer of a dream. Architects build M. C. Escher-esque mazes that disguise how they are closed loops. Ariadne (Ellen Page) gets the job of being an architect by drawing mazes that frustrate Cobb's ability to decipher them within a minute or two. At first, when she draws rectangular mazes, she does not succeed. When she switches over to a circular maze, Cobb is more impressed. Similarly, Inception circles back on itself by the end of the film.

extractor: the main person who steals secrets from people's dreams.

totem: a small device that can tell the dream infiltrating crew member if he or she is still in a dream. Cobb carries a top that he spins. If the top keeps spinning, he knows he's still stuck in a dream.

forger: someone who pretends to be someone else in a dream.

kick: the action needed to wake someone up, such as dipping him/her into a bathtub, reminiscent of the hypnagogic jerk, the sensation of falling when beginning to fall asleep.

2) Some authors, such as Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka, liked to write in a hypnagogic state, when they had some access to the free associations of the unconscious. In Through the Looking Glass, for example, Alice suffers an Inception-like moment when Tweedledum and Tweedledee tell her that she's only a "sort of thing" in the red King's dream. When she starts to cry, Tweedledum retorts"You know very well you're not real."

3) The gang of operatives in Inception work much like specialized thieves in a heist film, but one can also compare them to the members of a filmmaking crew, with the architect being the set designer/ cinematographer, the extractor as the director, the forger (s) as actors, etc. More than most recent movies, Inception is about the making of itself, a meta-cinematic film, and it increasingly moves toward a feeling of enclosure in the psychological hall of mirrors or multi-layer wedding cake of its dreams.

4) Inception views like a revised and improved Shutter Island at times. Shutter Island has two large problems for me:

a) No sane insane asylum director would allow one of his clearly insane inmates to run free through the compound, attacking guards and blowing up a car, etc.

b) I found the big secret of the film--Teddy Daniel's wife flips out and kills her children--too melodramatic and histrionic, although it certainly justifies why Teddy (DiCaprio) would have to repress his knowledge of that crime and invent a system of delusions to replace it.

Similarly, in Inception Cobb has to repress what happened to his wife Mal (Marion Cotillard) so that he can continue to meet with her in his dreams. As a projection of his guilt and love, Mal proves highly problematic to the success of his various missions to extract things from people's dreams. If Cobb is a kind of Daedalus who, along with Ariadne, manufactures mazes, Mal is the Minotaur. It makes sense that Ellen Page's character is named Ariadne, because she assists Theseus (also Cobb?) in overcoming the Minotaur. I'm not sure that she fully succeeds in Inception.

Both Shutter Island and Inception feature scenes where DiCaprio washes his face and looks in the mirror. Instead of fully repressing his memories, however, Cobb keeps Mal in a sequence of subconscious spaces much like floors in a building, what Ariadne calls a "prison of memories to lock her in." On the basement floor (reminiscent of Dante's Inferno and Angel Heart (1987)), she finds the room where Mal committed suicide.

5) Given how Inception can easily fall prey to solipsism, I liked the way Nolan emphasized Mal's, and by extension, Cobb's existential entrapment in this prison of memory-based artificial dreams. Is Nolan hinting at the Hitchcock-like power of the director using movies to revisit his obsessions? Is this dream entrapment a metaphor for our media-saturated age where, given unpleasant things like global warming going on outside, we manufacture air-conditioned high-definition environments of perpetual distraction and delusion? There's a scene early in Inception when Cobb comes upon a group of sleeping men in a near-perpetual dream state. Is this opium den-like atmosphere a metaphor for the audience of the film?

6) When Ariadne comes upon two mirrors facing each other, she brings them together to create an infinite series of reflections of herself and Cobb, much like a similar scene late in Citizen Kane. In the Orson Welles film, the mirroring emphasizes how Kane has gotten lost in his lying yellow journalistic media reflections, but what does the image imply in Inception? Something about the replicating dream reflections of Cobb's grief and guilt over Mal?

7) I especially liked the last scene of Inception where Nolan leaves it ambiguous as to whether the film has a happy or a sad ending. With dreamlike ease, Cobb arrives in the United States, breezes his way through customs, sees his gang cheerfully arriving as well, and then abruptly gets a ride from Miles (Michael Caine) to his own house where Cobb can finally see his long lost children. To check to see if he's dreaming, he spins his totemic top on a table, but then, for the first time in the movie, he sees his children's faces. Overcome with emotion, he walks up to hug them, and then the camera swerves back to the spinning top. Will it stop spinning? Shouldn't it have stopped by now? The top almost seems to slow down a bit, and then the movie is over. In the theater where I saw Inception, the audience loudly gasped. What just happened?

8) One could say the ending is perfect for the marketplace, which demands reassurance at the end of a movie for it to be successful. Or is the ending a perfect Rorschach test? If the audience wants a happy ending, Nolan has supplied it. That positively inclined audience member needs only to assume the top will stop spinning. Meanwhile, the more cynical critical types (such as myself) can assume that the top will not quit, thereby negating the entire mood shift of the end of the film, which makes the conclusion resemble the ironic "happy ending" of Robert Altman's The Player.

9) The last scenes do have a suspicious wish-fulfilling ease to them. Once their last plan succeeds, Saito (Ken Watanabe) makes a phone call to obtain official permission to allow Cobb to return to the States, but is that possible? What of the extra smooth quick transitions when Cobb arrives home so quickly? Why haven't his children noticeably aged? Perhaps, like Mal, Cobb has allowed himself to get trapped in a maze of dreams, a closed loop of his own, and by implication Inception's construction. In a manner reminiscent of the Bierce's conclusion for "An Occurrence on Owl Creek Bridge," Nolan ironically ends his film with Cobb deluding himself of his wish fulfilled.

If Cobb dreams the end, who is responsible? Where is he sleeping? What's going on? At this point, I have no idea.

Related links:

Dileep Rao's interpretation of Inception
Salon's explanation of the movie
interview with Chris Nolan
Cinematical's 6 interpretations of Inception

Thursday, July 15, 2010


---the ill-effects of sitting

---when women curse on live TV

---boys will be girls 2

---Angelina Jolie rules

---Howl trailer and Tweet Howl:

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by brevity, over-connectedness, emotionally starving for attention, dragging themselves through virtual communities at 3 am, surrounded by stale pizza and neglected dreams, looking for angry meaning, any meaning, same hat wearing hipsters burning for shared and skeptical approval from the holographic projected dynamo in the technology of the era, who weak connections and recession wounded and directionless, sat up, micro-conversing in the supernatural darkness of Wi-Fi-enabled cafes, floating across the tops of cities, contemplating techno, who bared their brains to the black void of new media and the thought leaders and so called experts who passed through community colleges with radiant, prank playing eyes, hallucinating Seattle- and Tarantino-like settings among pop scholars of war and change, who dropped out in favor of following a creative muse, publishing zines and obscene artworks on the windows of the internet, who cowered in unshaven rooms, in ironic superman underwear burning their money in wastebaskets from the 1980s and listening to Nirvana through paper thin walls, who got busted in their grungy beards riding the Metro through Shinjuku station, who ate digital in painted hotels or drank Elmer's glue in secret alleyways, death or purgatoried their torsos with tattoos taking the place of dreams, that turned into nightmares, because there are no dreams in the New Immediacy, incomparably blind to reality, inventing the new reality, through hollow creations fed through illuminated screens."

---vanishing America

---Author Gary Shteyngart can't read

---researching Inception (thanks to Go Into the Story)

---Al Pacino sells out

---the essential 100 films

---movie censorship

---the best film bloggers compiled by Paul Brunick:

"Acidemic is to be experienced more than summarized. While founder Erich Kuersten will write on oft-discussed blogosphere subjects—down-and-dirty horror pics, Seventies cinema of both mainstream and marginal varieties—these often serve as launching pads for loose-limbed meditations on cultural mores, youth nostalgia or, well, whatever else he wants to talk about. Kuersten’s runaway-train sentence structure and off-the-cuff humor result in some singular insights. (From an appreciation of 1982’s Conan the Barbarian: “The Thulsa Doom serpent cult in the film was a perfect analogy for the hippie movement, with its focus on converting young people to blood orgies and training them to kill their parents . . . For kids wondering why they weren’t growing up drowned in orgies like their older brothers in the 1970s, [it] was the perfect demonization tool.”) But following the snaking paths of his musings proves quite rewarding, not least for the way he intertwines the analytical with the personal. In a defense of Lindsay Lohan, for instance, Kuersten (who has written about his struggles with alcohol) both calls out the public’s gender bias and then offers the oft-soused starlet some AA-inspired solidarity. Full of freewheeling insights, Acidemic gives seemingly familiar material an idiosyncratic spin."—Matthew Connolly

---Smithsonian predicts the future; High Existence does as well

---tech sabbath time

---Razzle Dazzle Pt 4: the Parasite

---Bordwell's celebration of Ozu

---the trouble at Twitter

---M.I.A music review 2.0

---lastly, when humans ruled the earth

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Observations of the suicidally cool: Tom Ford's A Single Man

". . . after all, a man who has resolved to kill himself is a god." ---Vladimir Nabokov

At first, I found A Single Man turgid, pretentious, bombastic, its story line given to glib wish-fulfillment, and its final twist too egregiously ironic. I also appreciated Colin Firth's (as always) impressive acting skills. And yet, A Single Man, the first film directed by major fashion designer Tom Ford, intrigued me enough so that I watched it twice. In addition to the story which concerns an English professor contemplating suicide in the course of one day in 1962, I found the film's clutter-free art direction compelling. As an academic, I have never seen anyone dress even remotely as well as professor George does, or live in such GQ fashionable interiors, or drive just the right 220S coupe Mercedes, or go to work without grading a single student essay. On one level, George (Firth) inhabits a stylized world that logically extends from a fashion designer's vision. Everything about Ford's world, from the Psycho-enhanced parking lot, to George's 1949 John Lautner-designed house, to his perfectly symmetrical classroom (nothing written on the chalkboard) is just on this side of the laughably perfect. George can't walk past some college student guys playing tennis without Ford including some swooning slow motion close-ups of their chests glistening with perspiration (a scene almost worthy of the Twilight series). Is this a movie or a Calvin Klein ad? George can't even get his clothes from his bureau without stunning the viewer with the exact organization of his socks. So even if some of my initial reactions have some validity (especially concerning the ending), A Single Man increasingly impressed me with its technique.

Take the Hitchcock influence. Ford acknowledged his debt to the master by including the Psycho billboard that dominates a parking lot where George flirts with Carlos (Jon Kortajarena) outside of a liquor store. He also includes a moment where George almost gets seen pulling his gun from his briefcase while in his car, a scene that closely mimics the one in Psycho where Marion Crane endures a policeman asking questions outside of her car soon after she steals a wad of cash. George carries his gun in his briefcase with the same kind of fascination and guilt that Marion has for her envelope full of the stolen $40,000. Like Marion, George is concerned about being caught--in his case, displaying any suicidal tendencies. He also attempts to shoot himself silhouetted behind a shower curtain, but beyond these visual allusions, Psycho does not seem to relate all that much thematically to A Single Man.

Hitchcock's Vertigo carries more correspondences to A Single Man since the former movie also tells a story of obsession for a deceased loved one. Ford keeps including highly subjective moments in the film (usually close-ups) when George focuses in on a secretary's eye, or Carlos' mouth wafting cigarette smoke, or the little girl dancing on the front lawn with David Lynchian phantasmagoric suburban slow motion (as in the opening shots of Blue Velvet). Rather banally, Ford characterizes the message of his movie as "We should all live every day as if were our last," but whereas Vertigo keeps its obsessive focus solely on "Madeleine" and Scottie's need to recreate her, George's hallucinatory appreciation swerves between anything that reminds him of his lost love Jim (Matthew Goode) and his seize-the-day pleasure in anything else. So, George sniffs with Proustian recall a smooth hair fox terrier that reminds him of his and Jim's dog (now deceased), he re-visits a bar where he met Jim, he stares at other men who remind him of Jim, and so on, but he also dwells just as much on the eyes of a secretary (pausing to tell her of her beauty) or the lips of a James Dean look-alike. These close-ups are reminiscent of those on Kim Novak's face in the opening credits of Vertigo.

Ford includes some thought-provoking shot compositions. On the one hand, the viewer can applaud George's impeccable suit and Oxford shoes, but these garments also comprise the oppressive mask he wears as armor against the homophobic Cold War paranoic world of the film. One occasionally sees George trapped in horizontal compositions--the wooden boards of a fence outside his house as he peers wistfully at a neighboring family, and the metal lines marking the interior of a bank vault. Ford juxtaposes these entrapping shots with dramatic diagonal cliffs where George and Jim sunbathe during a flashback. These cliffs convey a sense of passion and freedom lacking in much of the rest of the movie. Ford also desaturates the colors of George's present world, and adds a lot of color, especially orange, to the flashbacks to evoke their greater vibrancy, a color scheme that can be a little heavy-handed in its symbolism. At other times, as George and Charley (Julianne Moore) fall back on the shag carpeting and share a cigarette together as the camera gazes down on them from above, A Single Man views like a compendium of flirtatious cinematic gestures--lots of smoking, drinking, George reading Kafka's Metamorphosis to convey his alienation as the more carefree Jim reads Breakfast at Tiffany's, and so on. These gestures reminded me of Godard's cinematic allusive methods in Breathless.

Ultimately, the emphasis on George keeps shifting between the tragic and the cool. On the one hand, he may shoot himself at any minute, but after a romantic evening he also glamorously rejects Julianne Moore, who is left with her mouth partially open as he shuts the front door in her face. On one level, the film is too superficial and meticulously executed to breathe (it's the opposite of mumblecore), but I was impressed with the way Ford's cold magazine layout perfection can generate so much cinematic friction, if only because Colin Firth's masterful performance struggles against Ford's tendency to gloss his every move.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Last links

---Charlize Theron killing ninjas

---CityLights interview with Pauline Kael

---Cary Grant's LSD phase

---extend and pretend (thanks to @stevensantos) and ghost malls

---Charles Simic's "Last Words":

—“What time is it? I wish you’d hurry up, I want to get to hell in time for dinner.” (John Owens ( Bill Booth), executed for murder in Wyoming on March 5, 1886).

—“I would rather be standing here for the crime that so help me God, I never remember committing, than to be sitting down there eagerly waiting to see a man die.” (Edward J. Brislane, executed in Illinois for murder on February 11, 1921).

—“Don’t worry about me. I’m okay. They are not shooting me for deserting the United States Army—thousands of guys have done that. They’re shooting me for bread I stole when I was 12 years old.” (Edward Donald “Eddie” Slovik,” convicted of desertion in northeastern France and executed on January 31, 1945.)

—“When I die, bury me deep, lay two speakers at my feet, put some headphones on my head and rock and roll me when I’m dead.” (Douglas Roberts, convicted of kidnapping, robbery and murder in Texas and executed on April 20, 2005.)

---"I'm not here to make friends"

---are cameras the new guns?

---Michael Joshua Rowin discusses the last word of Synechdoche, New York:

"A few moments later Weems will tell Caden: “ . . . as you recognize your transience; as you begin to lose your characteristics one by one; as you learn there is no-one watching you, and there never was . . . “ The self is no longer attached to a body, a vision, a maker, a voice. It is free-floating, endlessly malleable and adaptable. And if Caden ultimately adheres to orders issued from a voice, it is because he still cannot let go of his stubborn self. Until the bitter end he is still thinking of new ways to “do the play now,” right up to the point when Weems must direct him to die and force him to give his self over to the most dramatic of identity-blurring transformations: death. Thus Synecdoche is on the surface the most hopeless of Kaufman’s films while underneath the most forward-looking. Where the Kaufman of Adaptation unsuccessfully attempts to relinquish his ego in order to capture the universe—only to more forcefully reestablish his own personality—Caden comes closer to enlightened knowledge, to the acceptance that giving up the assertive, directorial ego and walking empathetically in others’ shoes (rather than controlling them) is the best way to give the world its due. That Caden still needs a guide to do so, and that he can only partially let go, is what makes Synecdoche such a painful, difficult film. While lauded and loved in many corners, one wonders if Synecdoche was so ambivalently met by critics and brutally received at the box office not because of its supposedly unrelenting despair or exceedingly demanding form, but because of its challenges to the very foundation and stability of identity. For viewers so tightly clinging to the false security of self, Weems’s final voiceover—“Die”—is not meant for Caden alone."

---fast food ads

---"We are creatures of the grid"

---ecology of mind:

"In the race for economic expansion we depleted oil reserves, pulped ancient forests and pumped water until the wells ran dry. Now we’re depleting the “old growth culture” – sucking dry the history, mythology, music, art and ideas that previous generations have bequeathed to us. All of our past is being picked over, recycled, remixed, regurgitated and repurposed.

Jaron Lanier, the father of “virtual reality,” is perhaps the most respected and outspoken technologist to identify a troubling deficiency in our cultural health. In You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto, Lanier writes that our culture has become one of nostalgic remixing where authentic “first-order expression” is chopped up and mashed into a derivative piece of “second-order expression.” And although Lanier shies away from proposing an infallible metric for distinguishing between the two, he does suggest that what distinguishes first-order expression is that it contributes something “genuinely new [to] the world” whereas derivative works recycle, repeat and fail to innovate.

The result is a society that treats our cultural heritage as a resource for exploitation. Instead of producing new works of genuine art that replenish our mental environment, we celebrate the amateur whose mash-ups may be hilarious but contribute nothing of value to the cultural conversation. This situation becomes especially distressing when we consider that just as there is a finite amount of nutrients in our soil, there is a finite amount of creativity that the past can yield. Great art is rare, and only so many mash-ups can be released before the original power of a truly artistic creation is lost. And without the production of an authentic culture, our mental environment is in danger of becoming a clear-cut wasteland, over-farmed and depleted.

In Lanier’s words, “we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating its own seed stock.”

---Wright's 10 coolest movie moments

---the flooded earth

---Kristin Scott Thomas moves to France

---Mary & Max trailer (thanks to @aliarikan)

---Nathaniel's audience with Julianne Moore

---the elusive Bill Murray:

''He has a genuine outré gift: he makes you feel that his characters are bums inside — unconcerned and indifferent — and he makes that seem like a kind of grace,'' wrote New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael about his performance in 1984's Ghostbusters.

---the evils of air conditioning

---continuing the "Razzle Dazzle" series: "The Fraud"

---lastly, Dennis Cozallio celebrates Nashville at 35

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Living by her own code: 12 things I learned about Breakfast at Tiffany's from Sam Wasson's Fifth Avenue, 5 A. M.

1) According to Sam Wasson, the writer of the engaging Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman, one model for Holly Golightly was Truman Capote's mother, Lillie Mae. Lillie had ambitions of becoming a high-class society woman, so she would leave young Truman with relatives back in Alabama for long periods of time as she went off with wealthy men to Manhattan. Subsequently, Capote spent much of the rest of his writing career trying to recreate her evasive spirit in fictional form.

2) When asked about casting for the movie version of his novel, Truman Capote originally wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly, and himself to play the narrator (Paul Varjak). George Peppard eventually got that role.

3) Given that Capote identified himself with that narrator, it's not surprising that he disliked the film adaptation of the novella, for two reasons:

a) The novella's Holly was defined by her ability to escape the entrapment of matrimony, family obligations, domesticity, a 9-to-5 job, etc. As Wasson points out, "As he wrote about Holly, Truman was discovering that, though she shared many qualities with women he knew, she was unlike any woman Truman had ever met. She said what she wanted, did what she wanted, and . . . outright refused to get married and settle down. It isn't just that she was a wild thing, though she most definitely was, it was that independence was the full mettle of her life, and she earned it by selling herself" as a call girl.

And yet, one can watch the movie and scarcely know what she does for a living. One can see the clear difference in the way both works conclude. By the end of the movie (spoiler alert), Holly dumps her cat, re-finds it, and kisses Paul in the rain, thus presumably staying with him (and perhaps inspiring a similar last scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral). In the novella, she dumps the cat and leaves town for Brazil and is possibly last seen riding off on horseback in Africa. The narrator does eventually re-find the cat, but by then Holly is long gone.

b) From the novel to the movie, Paul changes from a devoted friend to the more macho George Peppard, whose character demands that Holly love him back. Paul becomes the very agent of Holly's entrapment. No wonder Capote didn't like it. He said, "The book was rather bitter, and Holly Golightly was real--a tough character, not an Audrey Hepburn type at all. The film became a mawkish valentine to New York City and Holly and, as a result, was thin and pretty, whereas it should have been rich and ugly. It bore as much resemblance to my work as the Rockettes do to Ulanova."

4) Screenwriter George Axelrod solved the problem of translating Capote's oddly passive narrator to the screen by making him a gigolo who is supported by the older Mrs. Failenson (Patricia Neal). As Wasson writes, "And he [Paul] can't afford to pay for a night with [Holly], and she can't afford to pay for a night with him, and when they do finally get into bed together after he's just slept with his sugar mama, he's just too tired to make a move. Ergo they just lie there. So their conflict? Going from being `owned' to being free."

5) The film's key song, Henry Mancini's and Hank Mercer's "Moon River," combines Huckleberry Finn with a hint of "Over the Rainbow":

Moon Rover,
Wider than a mile:
I'm crossin' you in style
Old dream maker,
You heart breaker,
Wherever you're goin',
I'm goin' your way.
Two drifters,
Off to see the world,
There's such a lot of world
To see.
We're after the same
Rainbow's end,
Waitin' around the bend,
My Huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me.

The lyrics of "Moon River" hint at an affinity between Holly and Huck. They both resist staying in one place. They both like to move outside of official boundaries (the river is neither in Illinois or Missouri). Wasson points out that the song both "tells of simple affection," but it's also "laden with the weariness of heartbreak. It was the musical equivalent to the casting of Audrey Hepburn in the part of Holly Golightly." Typically, after a preview of the film, one studio head named Marty Rackin said "I love the picture, fellas, but the fucking song has to go." He was overruled. Ironically, Henry Mancini's music went on to win the only two Oscars garnered by the film.

6) Peppard proved a grandstanding domineering pain during the shoot. Hepburn reportedly didn't like him, thinking him "pompous." Peppard referred to her as "the Happy Nun." Peppard fought to have Patricia Neal's dialogue cut. At one point, Neal "suggested that they might play a scene with Peppard sitting on her lap," and "Peppard recoiled in absolute horror." Still, Peppard's character was kept in check by Capote's original conception of him. As Holly points out at one point when talking to Sally Tomato in Sing Sing, "I guess of course I don't know anybody but rats, except of course Fred [Peppard] here. You do think Fred is nice, don't you Sally?"

7) It took Blake Edwards 7 days to shoot the famous party scene in Holly's apartment. He insisted on using actors instead of extras for the shoot. While they mostly had fun improvising various gags, Dorothy Whitney (Mag Wildwood) did not enjoy her face-first pratfall into a mattress (when she passes out in the movie). She kept lifting her arms to her side, but Blake forced her to repeat the fall about 13 times until she got it right. Edwards' tip for looking drunk was "to play the scene with the intention of looking sober."

8) Billy Wilder, who directed Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina (1954), had this to say about the star: "This girl, singlehanded, may make bosoms a thing of the past."

9) The movie proved most objectionable in its casting of Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi, who plays the role as a grotesque buck-toothed, squinty-eyed caricature of a Japanese photographer. Capote characterized the movie as the "most miscast film I've ever seen. . . . Well, indeed I had a Japanese photographer in the book, but he certainly wasn't Mickey Rooney." Wasson also points out that subsequently Akira Kurosawa "almost couldn't talk to" one of the producers, Richard Shepherd, who was mortified. As he says, "I felt awful. I was so embarrassed. . . . it . . was. . . painful." Since then, Blake Edwards has publicly apologized for the casting.

10) Audrey Hepburn initially resisted the role of Holly because she "[couldn't] play a hooker." She was also intimidated by the need to play drunk, angry, and depressed with the "mean reds." Blake Edwards carefully coached her through the shoot by helping her rehearse her next day's lines the night before. In comparison to Billy Wilder, who never allowed anyone to change his script, Edwards let Hepburn experiment with her lines to make them more spontaneous.

11) Visually, Holly communicates a great deal through her fashion sense. Newly iconic pieces like the Givenchy small black dress showed how, in the words of designer Jeffrey Banks, "chic was no longer the faraway thing only for the wealthy. . . . After Tiffany's, anyone, no matter what their financial situation, could be chic everyday and everywhere." Holly's fashion sense becomes part of her ticket to high society.

12) In the end, Edward's movie softened the cynicism of Capote's novella, just as the novella adds some edge to a sweet romantic comedy. Holly conveyed, as Wasson puts it, a "glimpse of someone who lived by her own code of interests, not her mother's and who did so with a wholesome independence of spirit." Women of the early 1960s could find wrapped within Breakfast at Tiffany's' glossy Hollywood package a surprisingly radical bid for freedom. As Wasson points out, one of the founders of Ms. Magazine, Letty Cottin Pogrebin claimed that "Holly was my formative prefeminist role model."

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Independence Day links

---22 movie making techniques

---the MacGuffin explained

---the critical debate

---Jake enjoys Godard's Week End:

"And in the middle of it all is an unending traffic jam, filmed in several tracking shots that reduce the frame nearly to a two-dimensional strip. In fact, Godard so magnificently draws out the first tracking shot to the point he begins to pass the same type of actions -- people tossing balls between cars, horrific wrecks, unruly livestock bleating and groaning in the backs of trucks -- repeatedly that the shot comes to resemble one of those old strips of background placed on rollers and spun on a loop behind static actors or budgeted animation to have a character move a large distance without having to either animate a massive number or cells or worry about tracking down a long street with one of the older, heavier models of a film camera. Week End has a sickly yellow hue to it, as if all the vehicular congestion has produced enough smog to make the air quality of Los Angeles seem that of a Himalayan hamlet. Chemically suffocating the brains of those already made fighting mad by the worldview placed upon them by corporate interests, the smog becomes both a catalyst and a byproduct of this vicious society, where people are so happy to get out of a traffic jam that they breeze through a puddle of blood coating the road from a nasty wreck just to get back up to speed.

After about 80 minutes, the couple finally reach Corrine's parents' house, only to find her father dead and her mother unwilling to share the inheritance. Without hesitation, Roland kills the mother, something Corrine not only does not object to but openly abets to secure her financial stability. Before they can celebrate, however, the two are captured along with some English tourists by a group of hippy guerrillas who display their contempt for humanity by engaging in cannibalism. After placing the conflict between Roland and Corrine on the back-burner, Godard saves his ultimate display of giddy nihilism for last as Roland finds himself in the hippies' stew pot and Corrine joins the band of cannibals and eats her husband without a second thought."

---existential Muppets

---cities of the imagination

---an innocent ad selling a boat

---Aaron Aradillas and Matt Zoller Seitz look at the nature of fame in movies

---Richard Brody considers Criss Cross

---Traister reflects upon the new single womanhood

---scenes from a drowned London 2030

---oil plumes and DeLillo's White Noise:

"When an accident in a nearby train yard spills 35,000 gallons of `Nyodene Derivative' (a fictional, highly toxic byproduct of commercial insecticides), creating an amorphous black cloud quickly named an `airborne toxic event,' Jack assures his family that they will be safe without fleeing home: `These things happen to poor people who live in exposed areas. Society is set up in such a way that it’s the poor and the uneducated who suffer the main impact of natural and man-made disasters. People in low-lying areas get the floods, people in shanties get the hurricanes and tornados. I’m a college professor. Did you ever see a college professor rowing a boat down his own street in one of those TV floods?' Even as the air currents threaten to send the toxic cloud toward his neighborhood, Jack insists that alarm would be out of step with his professional position, saying `I don’t see myself fleeing an airborne toxic event.'

Jack’s self assurance can be maintained only through an illusion of control. He assumes that the weather, government, and his socio-economic status will all contrive to protect him from the threatening black cloud. But this illusion is wrested from him after he learns that his two minute exposure to the toxin will likely jeopardize his health, though it will be fifteen years before the symptoms begin to manifest. `Scheduled to die,' Jack’s fear of death encroaches upon his ability to see himself among the living. Confiding to a fellow professor, he speaks of the trap he finds himself in: `It’s almost as though our fear is what brings it on. If we could learn not to be afraid, we could live forever.' Caught between the living and the dead, fear and uncertainty drive all of Jack’s actions after the exposure.

The victims of the Gulf oil spill are now trapped in the same epistemic gap in which Jack finds himself. Possibly the most confounding aspect of the disaster is that after two months there is still no certainty as to the extent of the damage. It is not merely a problem of tracking the massive, miles-long invisible plumes of oil that are suspected to be floating below the surface. A more essential problem is that the government and BP have been unable to determine how much oil is leaking from the well. There are only best and worst case scenarios separated by tens of thousands of barrels per day (as of this writing, it was estimated that between 12,600 and 40,000 barrels per day were bleeding into the Gulf before the riser was cut, and between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels per day afterwards).

Being unable to fathom such quantities, we are in a situation similar to Jack’s: things are bad, danger is lurking, but we don’t know its full extent. Like Jack’s, our exposure has been consummate, and fatal for the health and economic stability of many, but the final tally is not yet in."

---when film imitates art

---Meredith Andrew's sleep/wake portfolio

---interview with the worst director in the world, Mr. Boll

---crises of capital

---American democratic movies

---the Siren checks out women's costumes in the movies

---closing the digital frontier:

"All of this suggests that the era of browser dominance is coming to a close. Twitter, like other recent-vintage social networks, is barely bothering with its Web site; its smart-phone app is more fully featured. The independent TweetDeck, which collates feeds across multiple social networks, is not browser-based. As app-based usage climbs at the expense of the browser and as more content creators put their text, audio, and video behind pay walls, it will be interesting to see what happens to the Twitterverse and blogosphere, which piggyback on, and draw creative juice from, their ability to link to free Web content. If they don’t end up licensing original content, networks such as Twitter and Facebook will become purely communication vehicles. At first glance, Web sites like The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post will have a hard time once they lose their ability to hypertext their digests; on second glance, they will have an opportunity to sop up some of the traffic that once went to their now-paid rivals. Google, meanwhile, is hoping to find ways to link through pay walls and across platforms, but this model will clearly not be the delightfully free-form open plain of the early Web. Years from now, we may look back at these past 15 years as a discrete (and thrillingly indiscreet) chapter in the history of digital media, not the beginning of a new and enlightened dispensation. The Web will be here forever; that is not in question. But as Don Henley sang in `The Last Resort,' the Eagles’ brilliant, haunting song about the resortification of the West, `You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.'”

---paradise regained

---concerning Keaton's Steamboat Bill, Jr.

---Rob Horning meditates on the future of intimacy

---the phenomenology of hashtags

---lastly, dubious ways to celebrate the Fourth: playing the chicken game and drunkenly handling explosives