Friday, December 30, 2011

commodified links

---Fincher's reasons for making his films (not including his music videos)

---Louis Godfrey's survey of Occupy Wall Street footage:

"the occupation of space is what is at the very heart of the Occupy movement, to use public areas – parks, plazas, university campuses – as the primary tool of redress, by asserting that they are commons. The concept of the commons is, according to Peter Linebaugh in The Magna Carta Manifesto, “The theory that vests property in the community and organizes labor for the common benefit” - an idea that dates back to 1215 at Runnymede and the limitations placed on the power of King John. The commons are more than just public spaces, but they are those liberties – trial by jury, Habeus corpus, etc. – that are essential to the individual use of those spaces with agency and purpose.

The antithesis of the commons is the commodity. Ever increasingly our public spaces are serviced and maintained by private entities, and open to general use in highly regulated increments requiring prior approval, and often for monetized purposes. Accordingly, officials now view public spaces as they do any asset that can be commodified, and deploy law enforcement to protect them accordingly. “The insanity of the commodity arises from its inherent contradiction or double bind: on the one hand it is useful, convenient, or commodious, on the other hand it is bought and sold for profit and gain,” Linebaugh writes. “Guile replaces plain dealing.”

---how to film a revolution

---the end credits of Being There

---Joel Bocko's Blog 11

---the precocious Maria Popova

---"Note what the president does not say: that indefinitely detaining an American suspected of terrorism would be unconstitutional or illegal."

---filmmaking power apps

---anatomy of a scene in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

---“For the first time ever, it will become technologically and financially feasible for authoritarian governments to record nearly everything that is said or done within their borders--every phone conversation, electronic message, social media interaction, the movements of nearly every person and vehicle, and video from every street corner.”

---trailer for Prometheus 

---hyper-networked revolt

---Catherine Grant's favorite film studies resources

---time to make a feature film with your cell phone

---the overture of Melancholia

---Andrew Dubber's "Music journalism is the new boring": "You’re a lazy, complacent, boring failure."

---"Many analysts – including the US military – predict that oil supply will fall short of demand in the next few years. This will lead to shortages and high prices, which will continue the economic slowdown, and high unemployment. Of course, this is on top of whatever financial crises are already waiting in the wings. We must get the transition to a renewable energy economy started in earnest, if we are to limit climate change impacts, and prepare for lower supplies of fossil fuels.  The longer the 1% delays the transition, the harder it will be."

---Terry Gilliam's 10 tips for directors

---Keyframe's year in video

---Urban Outfitters: bookseller

---Share or Die

---Spiegelman's 15 delightful internet films

---David Lynch in four movements

---lastly, the key to understanding Young Adult: Hello Kitty

Monday, December 26, 2011

The fierce cyberpunk waif: 11 notes on Lisbeth Salander of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

“At the center of all of this howling evil is the strangely relatable Lisbeth Salander, a damaged, vengeful, brilliant, androgynous cipher… She is the reason that people can't put these weird books down” ---Vogue

1) Writing for The Daily Beast, Louise Roug points out that "The charisma of the Salander character is ultimately the reason for the extraordinary success of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its two sequels."  But who is Lisbeth Salander?  Why does her character, as played by Rooney Mara, eclipse Daniel Craig (journalist Blomkvist) so much in the new David Fincher version?  Why does she effortlessly steal the movie?  Fincher notes how Salander "oddly prizes herself in not coming to any conclusions," preferring the data cloud to any biased opinion, so I will, in the spirit of Salander's research techniques, limit myself to the evidence at hand.  Some quotes:

2) According to her state dossier in Larsson's novel, she is described as: “introverted, socially inhibited, lacking in empathy, ego-fixated, psychopathic and asocial, and incapable of assimilating learning.”

3) Again, from the novel: “[Blomkvist] couldn’t figure out Lisbeth Salander.  She was altogether odd.”  As he notes later, "Salander was an information junkie with a delinquent child's take on morals and ethics."

4) One of Salander's Principles from the novel (in her words): "a bastard is always a bastard, and if I can hurt a bastard by digging up shit about him, then he deserves it."

5) According to Katie Roiphe, "One could argue that Larsson’s world of rapists, murderers, sadists, conspirators, and assorted sickos is not an entirely balanced portrayal of reality circa now, but there is something about Lisbeth Salander that rings true. In the extremes and luridness of her experience, she somehow embodies the modern woman’s most intimate contradictions, her more ordinary straddling of power and weakness, her irrational internal admixture of fierce warrior and abused waif.”

6) "Lisbeth Salander = Lizard Salamander?" ---Roger Ebert on Twitter

7) One can imagine other actresses who tried out for the role, such as Scarlett Johansson.

8) Richard Brody claims that "What Fincher captures is the inner sense of a pair of minds—Lisbeth Salander, the genius punk survivalist hacker, and Mikael Blomkvist, the intrepid investigative journalist—that run faster than others. The relentless pace of the movie, its mercurial combination of amazingly precise and crystallized shots, is like the inside view of a souped-up biomorphic CPU."

9) “Horrible things happen to her. And she wanders home. And she sits there. She lights a cigarette, and she fumes. And you don’t know what’s going on in her head. The next time you see her, she’s got a Taser and a 30-pound chrome dildo, and she’s got a plan,” says David Fincher. “You don’t need her to say, ‘This is not right what’s happened to me, and I have to make it right.’ You see her at the hardware store, buying tape and zip ties and black ink.”

10) Monika Bartyzel writes: "Fincher’s Lisbeth is not Larsson’s. She is sexualized, softened, romanticized, and less empowered. Whether he intended this or not, it’s what countless critics see in the film; they don’t mind it – in fact most like it – but they’ve recognized it and have written about it.

There seems to be a relief that Mara’s Salander is a more relatable person, that classic “female” tropes like softness and vulnerability are visible. It speaks to society’s overwhelming discomfort with the unclassifiable, whether it’s a person’s sexuality, a terrible people who does good things, or the motivations of a young woman who has been horrifically mistreated, mentally and physically, for decades.

Yet the entire point is that Lisbeth doesn’t seem real to the regular Joe or Jane walking down the street. Even those closest to her don’t truly understand her. She’s got the double-whammy of an autistic mind and a hellish life with experiences we can’t begin to fathom. We’re not supposed to understand her, or lust after her. As A. O. Scott noted in his review: “We see all of Ms. Mara and quite a bit less of Mr. Craig, whose naked torso is by now an eyeful of old news. This disparity is perfectly conventional – the exploitation of female nudity is an axiom of modern cinema – but it also represents a failure of nerve and a betrayal of the sexual egalitarianism Lisbeth Salander argues for and represents.”

11) Lastly, to once again quote Larsson's novel: "[Salander] had never brooded over whether she was straight, gay, or even bisexual.  She did not give a damn about labels.”  Perhaps that's the one secret behind Salander's appeal: she not only resists classifications, labels, and categories.  She refuses to acknowledge them.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

nondisruptive links

---2011: The Cinescape

---"nondisruptive" cell use

---What doomsday movies mean:

"We know our bubble is about to burst, that our artificial prosperity is corrupt and unsustainable. And even if somehow, somehow, the greedheads change their ways and the temperature of the Earth doesn’t rise and the polar ice caps don’t melt and oil remains plentiful enough to drive back and forth from our houses in the suburbs, we’ll still be haunted, like Curtis in Take Shelter, by the thought that something bad is about to go down. And we’ll seek out doomsday movies to see how it all plays out. The end of the world has barely begun."

---when the NYPD targets the media

---Sense of Flying

---Peter Mountford once sold furniture to celebrities:

"Personally, I wanted everything in the store. I wanted the objects and I wanted the people. I wanted to eat them all up, gnaw on their bones. At first, I didn’t care about it all, thought it a lot of silliness, but soon enough I was fantasizing, actively, daily, about owning those gorgeous Italian wine glasses, they were $50 each, and about the house where I’d put my immense and uncomfortable sofa. I imagined the parties on my private beach, shaded by the French marquee that no one else in L.A. owned. Or, no one except Bridget Fonda.

While driving home to the apartment I shared with two roommates in Silverlake, I’d pick out the famous guests that would come to my beachfront house, pictured myself drinking a martini in the setting sun as the sea breeze rippled through my white suit. These things had never seemed relevant before. Now, I felt mortified by my sensible late ’90s Volvo, my cheap cellphone. Somewhere nearby, someone was sharing a platter of immaculate sushi with Sarah Michelle Gellar, who’s a year younger than me and prettier in person, while I was consuming starchy blocks of Trader Joe’s faux-sushi. What I needed, evidently, was a Maserati, a beachfront house in Malibu. What I needed was a better pair of sunglasses, and a life appropriate to those glasses. Until then, I was not alive, I was auditioning for life.

Updike wrote, “Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face,” but after living in L.A. for a while, the proper reply became obvious: With a mask like that, who needs a face?"

---Seaman had his Twitter account suspended due to what?

---the worst movie posters of 2011

---"This used to be funny, but now it’s really just terrifying. We’re dealing with legislation that will completely change the face of the internet and free speech for years to come."

---"Film the Police"

---Magic and Light, Chapter 2

---"Maybe a hundred years down the line, nobody will look back at climate change as the most important issue of the early 21st century, because the damage will have been done, and the idea that it might have been prevented will seem absurd. Maybe the idea that Mali and Burkina Faso were once inhabited countries rather than empty deserts will seem queer, and the immiseration of huge numbers of stateless refugees thronging against the borders of the rich northern countries will be taken for granted. The absence of the polar ice cap and the submersion of Venice will have been normalised; nobody will think of these as live issues, no one will spend their time reproaching their forefathers, there'll be no moral dimension at all. We will have wrecked the planet, but our great-grandchildren won't care much, because they'll have been born into a planet already wrecked."

---ninja attack nuptials

---"Americans can be arrested on home soil and taken to Guantánamo Bay under a provision inserted into the bill that funds the US military," but "it is never easy to veto a defense authorization bill"

---trailers for Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Divide, Jack the Giant Killer, We Are Legion, and The Dictator

---Tiso's "You and Mark Aren't Friends"

---Lastly, "In a world where the society of the swarm is beginning to devour the society of the spectacle, celebrities have nothing to offer a people’s movement that does not begin with the abnegation of their celebrity."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A. O. Scott picks Pulp Fiction and other links

---A. O. Scott picks Pulp Fiction

---how Elvis Costello got banned from Saturday Night Live

---Chaos Cinema Part 3

---celebrities on the subway

---Chinese Army in Texas

---Lethem's "The Ecstasy of Influence: a Plagiarism":

"I was born in 1964; I grew up watching Captain Kangaroo, moon landings, zillions of TV ads, the Banana Splits, M*A*S*H, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I was born with words in my mouth—`Band-Aid,' `Q-tip,' `Xerox'—object-names as fixed and eternal in my logosphere as `taxicab' and `toothbrush.' The world is a home littered with pop-culture products and their emblems. I also came of age swamped by parodies that stood for originals yet mysterious to me—I knew Monkees before Beatles, Belmondo before Bogart, and “remember” the movie Summer of '42 from a Mad magazine satire, though I've still never seen the film itself. I'm not alone in having been born backward into an incoherent realm of texts, products, and images, the commercial and cultural environment with which we've both supplemented and blotted out our natural world. I can no more claim it as “mine” than the sidewalks and forests of the world, yet I do dwell in it, and for me to stand a chance as either artist or citizen, I'd probably better be permitted to name it.

Consider Walker Percy's The Moviegoer:

`Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives: the time one climbed the Parthenon at sunrise, the summer night one met a lonely girl in Central Park and achieved with her a sweet and natural relationship, as they say in books. I too once met a girl in Central Park, but it is not much to remember. What I remember is the time John Wayne killed three men with a carbine as he was falling to the dusty street in Stagecoach, and the time the kitten found Orson Welles in the doorway in The Third Man.'

Today, when we can eat Tex-Mex with chopsticks while listening to reggae and watching a YouTube rebroadcast of the Berlin Wall's fall—i.e., when damn near everything presents itself as familiar—it's not a surprise that some of today's most ambitious art is going about trying to make the familiar strange. In so doing, in reimagining what human life might truly be like over there across the chasms of illusion, mediation, demographics, marketing, imago, and appearance, artists are paradoxically trying to restore what's taken for `real' to three whole dimensions, to reconstruct a univocally round world out of disparate streams of flat sights.

Whatever charge of tastelessness or trademark violation may be attached to the artistic appropriation of the media environment in which we swim, the alternative—to flinch, or tiptoe away into some ivory tower of irrelevance—is far worse. We're surrounded by signs; our imperative is to ignore none of them."

---The Dark Knight Rises and hooded prisoners on a CIA plane

---what indefinite detention looks like

---the ParaNorman and Perfect Sense trailers

---Brian Eno's oblique strategies

---Jenny Turner's "As Many Pairs of Shoes as She Likes"

---"One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea-ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change."

---"Raiding the Lost Ark: A Filmumentary"

---an interview with David Graeber:

"Well, if you look at the size of US deficit it corresponds almost exactly to the real saw military budget. If you look at graphs showing the growth of the US deficit, and the percentage of it held overseas, and the US military spending—basically, you see almost exactly the same curve. So basically, foreign governments and institutional lenders are buying US treasury bonds and paying for this enormous military spending. So, who are the guys doing it? Well during the cold war it was especially West Germany, now, apart from China, the most important are places like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Gulf states. What do these states have in common? They’re all covered in US military bases, or under US military protection. The US is borrowing the money to create these military bases from the very countries that the US military is sitting on top of. In the past, such arrangements were called ‘empires’ and the money sent over was referred to as ‘tribute.’ Now apparently you're not allowed to use that language, so it’s called a ‘loan.’ Nonetheless, that link between the military and the core of the financial system remains, it’s the thing we’re not supposed to think about."

---"The great contemporary terror is anonymity."

Thursday, December 8, 2011

indefinite charge-free military detention links

---David Foster Wallace, Mark Leyner, and Jonathan Franzen discuss literature

---Newt's global warming ad

---I Believe I Can Fly

---the Oscar Bound Actress roundtable with @nathanielr's commentary

---"The House of the Rising Sun Old School Computer Remix"

---Zittrain's "The Personal Computer is Dead":

"The content restrictions are unexplored territory. At the height of Windows's market dominance, Microsoft had no role in determining what software would and wouldn't run on its machines, much less whether the content inside that software was to be allowed to see the light of screen. Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore found his iPhone app rejected because it contained `content that ridicules public figures.' Fiore was well-known enough that the rejection raised eyebrows, and Apple later reversed its decision. But the fact that apps must routinely face approval masks how extraordinary the situation is: tech companies are in the business of approving, one by one, the text, images, and sounds that we are permitted to find and experience on our most common portals to the networked world. Why would we possibly want this to be how the world of ideas works, and why would we think that merely having competing tech companies—each of which is empowered to censor—solves the problem?

This is especially troubling as governments have come to realize that this framework makes their own censorship vastly easier: what used to be a Sisyphean struggle to stanch the distribution of books, tracts, and then websites is becoming a few takedown notices to a handful of digital gatekeepers. Suddenly, objectionable content can be made to disappear by pressuring a technology company in the middle. When Exodus International—`[m]obilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality'—released an app that, among other things, inveighed against homosexuality, opponents not only rated it poorly (one-star reviews were running two-to-one against five-star reviews) but also petitioned Apple to remove the app. Apple did."

---22 free Hitchcock movies

---Don't Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrl

---the 90 best tumblr blogs

---Kael's 5 best reviews according to Oleszczyk

---"Touch of Evil"

---Roberts' "The Brutal Logic of Climate Change":

"That makes the notion of `adapting' to 4 degrees C a bit of a farce. Infrastructure decisions involve big money and long time horizons. By the time we've built (or rebuilt) infrastructure suited to 4 degrees C, it will be 5 degrees C [9 degrees F]. And so on. A climate in which conditions are changing that fast just isn't suitable for stable human civilization (or for the continued existence of a majority of the planet's species).

Oh, and by the way: According to the International Energy Agency, we're currently on course for 6 degrees C [10.8 degrees F]. That is, beyond any reasonable doubt, game over.

So this is where we're at: stuck between temperatures we can't possibly accommodate and carbon reduction pathways we can't possibly achieve. A rock and a hard place. Scylla and Charybdis."

---traffic in Vietnam

---Greenwald: "the entire world (including the U.S.) is a battlefield and the war will essentially go on forever"

---Spielberg remembers Stanley Kubrick

---lastly, Fall, a video poem for Buster Keaton

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Twee Serendipity: 9 notes on Miranda July's The Future

1) First, let's define twee--"to be obnoxiously sweet, or quaint. It comes across as being disingenuous, corny, or effeminate.

2) From Onstad's New York Times article "Miranda July Is Totally Not Kidding": "To her detractors (“haters” doesn’t seem like too strong a word) July has come to personify everything infuriating about the Etsy-shopping, Wes Anderson-quoting, McSweeney’s-reading, coastal-living category of upscale urban bohemia that flourished in the aughts. Her very existence is enough to inspire, for example, an I Hate Miranda July blog, which purports to detest her `insufferable precious nonsense.' Or there is the online commenter who roots for July to be exiled to Darfur. Or the blogger who yearns to beat her with a shoe."

3) The first time I watched The Future on Blu-ray, I fell asleep about 30 minutes into it, in part because the narrative appears to stop dead as Sophie (July) stares at a table leg, some hose, and other seemingly random objects in her ultra hipster Urban Outfitters vintage Los Angeles apartment, and in part because I was tired from a hard day's work. Still, I was intrigued enough by the randomness of the film's aesthetics to watch it again with my significant other, and this time I enjoyed it.

4) According to my significant other, other things that "twee" involves in terms of fashion:

a) The fascination with mixed prints.

b) Mixed time periods. Sophie tends to wear 1920's-inspired clothes (her little leather shoe flats struck me as important as anything else in the movie). Her boyfriend Jason's (Hamish Linklater's) long, unkempt hair and jeans evoke the 1960's.

c) Mixed value. The Twee fashion aesthetic involves incongruously blending $500 Prada shoes with a t-shirt from Target. You form an identity by trying to pick things that please you, and they can be of any value. You fashion a DIY style out of the grab bag vintage detritus of different genres, values, time periods, and prints without being co-opted by corporate branding.

5) So how does July's serendipitous creativity work? The Future is in part about its creative technique. As Richard Brody notes about the film: "an exemplary work of modern cinema is defined by its reflection of the way in which it was made." After Sophie and Jason commit to taking care of a cat Paw-Paw that has been kept at a clinic due to its illness (renal failure), they learn that they have about a month before they can take the cat home. After that, the cat could die within six months, or within a few years if it bonds with them. This commitment suddenly (and humorously) forces the couple to rethink their whole lives. Now in their thirties, they discuss how they will soon turn forty, and then they might as well be fifty, and after that there's nothing but "loose change," as Jason puts it. So, they decide to quit their LA McJobs and remain open to everything as they attempt to reinvent themselves. Jason arbitrarily joins an environmentalist organization "Tree to Tree" where he tries to sell trees door to door. Sophie decides to create a different dance each day for thirty days, film herself performing each dance with her webcam, then show the dances on the Internet.

6) The key to all of this flaky behavior is their willingness to remain open to everything. Because of that choice, Sophie happens upon the phone number behind a drawing that Jason bought that leads her into (spoiler alert) an affair with an older man Marshall (David Warshofsky), in part due to her frustration with her attempts at choreography, and in part because she doesn't have to be creative around Marshall (thus does Sophie's failure help July fashion a successful movie). Meanwhile, Jason's new job as an environmental solicitor obliges him to get out of the house, think about the interior/exterior world, and meet suburbanites. Through this process, he discovers Joe Putterlik, an older man who sells him a used hair dryer. In real life, Miranda July found Joe through a PennySaver ad when she got frustrated with writing The Future. Thus, July, like her characters, uses random events and encounters to help her create. The film keeps obliging its viewer to say "Where in the hell is this film going now?" Twee or not, the random Ghost Worldesque quirkiness is oddly compelling.

7) Meanwhile, what about the talking cat, Paw-Paw, and the talking moon (which uses the voice of Joe Putterlik)? By including Paw-Paw, July seems to cater to the infinite internet meme interest in cats. As J. D. Salinger wrote, "we are being sentimental when we give to a thing more tenderness than God gives to it. I said that God undoubtedly loves kittens, but not, in all probability, with Technicolor bootees on their paws. He leaves that creative touch to script writers."

8) Still, Paw Paw talks about being stranded in the great "Outside" before finding some domestic comfort with her possible new owners. Paw-Paw's existential quandary in the animal clinic sets up the film's concern with our own screwed up relations with the outside world. There's something pantheistic about July's vision where animals and inanimate matter can communicate with her characters. Her world is also reminiscent of Peewee's Playhouse where most everything in Peewee's living room has been anthropomorphized.

9) Later in The Future, Marshall's little girl Gabriella (Isabella Acres) experiments with burying most of herself in a hole in her backyard. She attempts to sleep outside that way, as if she intuitively shares in the cat's fears of exposure. Meanwhile, Jason manages to "freeze" time when Sophie wants to tell him of her affair, so he (again rather randomly) talks with the full moon about what to do. In his indecision, he allows a month to slip by, thereby he and Sophie miss their appointment to pick up the cat. In the end, July's anthropomorphized cat and moon communicate our lack of connection with the environment. Even as they talk sweetly, the cat and the moon acknowledge an indifferent cold exterior world that has little to do with the Urban Outfitter hipsters and their need for attention and some sort of commitment. As she begins to understand this, Sophie looks for an escape from her faddish interests, her time, her creative limitations, her fashion sense, and her self-absorption.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

"The earth is evil. No one will miss it.": 16 notes on Lars von Trier's Melancholia

I wonder if Lars von Trier took pleasure in destroying the world that he created in Melancholia? Some notes:

1) What's the correlation between von Trier's Nazi comments at the Cannes film festival and Melancholia? Did von Trier mean to undermine the festival just as Justine (Kirstin Dunst) makes a mockery of her wedding?

2) When she changes the art book display in the library, Justine changes her mise en scene. She is a kind of prophet who can do nothing with her knowledge of the imminent destruction of the earth except negate everything around her.

3) When her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) pulls Justine aside during the wedding to attempt to stop her from making one of her "scenes," I initially thought that Justine resorts to drama because she's beautiful and spoiled, but that's not it. She's the Cassandra who knows in advance that everything her sister stands for no longer matters.

4) Melancholia, like The Tree of Life, shares a symphonic structure and the kind of cosmic imagery one finds in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). The movie is divided into three parts: the prelude, and two movements, the first dedicated to Justine's disastrous wedding and her point of view, the second dedicated to Claire's perspective afterwards. All three portions invite the viewer to make connections between them.

5) The prelude's slow motion tableaus prepare the viewer for the end, giving the viewer an impersonal God-like perspective on all of the human uncertainty and error to follow (We know, for example, that the earth will smash like a fiery grapefruit into the much larger Melancholia planet).

6) In the opening scene of the prelude, Justine stares at the viewer in close up as stricken birds fall from the sky behind her. The central question of the movie becomes: what does she know? The film's version of the apocalypse parallels our environmental anxieties: snow falling on a warm summer day, hail falling crazily, and other strange weather phenomena. Sparks connect from the sky to the telephone poles and horses and other animals react to the changes that no one else can feel. How much have apocalyptic omens become part of our daily experience?

7) Why does von Trier burn one of Justine's art book displays, Bruegel's winter landscape painting "Hunters in the Snow" in the prelude?

8) Melancholia is a movie of omens. Justine's depression could be in actuality the prophet's knowledge. As in Donnie Darko (2001), what appears to be mental illness could be a higher understanding. So, Justine's character becomes more calm and collected in the latter movement which is otherwise dedicated to Claire's worry and despair. Justine finds that she can give herself over to the arrival of the planet (she even lies in the nude at night to be ravished by it). The planet Melancholia becomes her groom. She seems cheered up slightly by the planet's increasing proximity. One could say that her knowledge somehow makes her superior to her imminent destruction (although one gets the impression that von Trier would never allow any kind of afterlife to his characters; Malick's seeming willingness to do so in The Tree of Life makes the latter film less severe). At the end of Melancholia when the earth is destroyed, one can't help but expect some sort of coda or denouement, but what can happen after that? Credits.

9) At one point, Justine says "The earth is evil. There's no need to grieve for it. No one will miss it." Did von Trier mean for her gnostic words to echo Uncle Charlie's in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) : "How do you know what the world is like? Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you rip off the fronts of houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?"

10) The bath theme (Justine takes a bath during her wedding in the first movement, and then initially proves too depressed to bathe in the second) ties in with the suicide of Ophelia theme foreshadowed in the prelude.

11) Claire is all about worry. She conveys a mother's despair, knowing that her young son will be killed. As the planet approaches, she doesn't know where to go, what to do. (spoiler alert) Her last act on earth takes on a ritualistic importance. All that Justine and Claire have left is a last stab at magic for the boy's (Leo's) sake. One could say this is pitifully ineffectual, but one could also see that this attempt to keep Leo from fear is one of the most important acts of the movie.

12) In one evening, Justine negates:

a) marriage
b) society
c) her employment
d) her mise en scene
e) her family's money

She denies her wedding's presumption of a comedic ending. Her knowledge is fundamentally tragic, so her wedding dress becomes a kind of shroud.

13) Justine's horse is named Abraham. Did Von Trier mean to make us think of the Old Testament Abraham's absurd trial when God commands him to kill his son Isaac, a story which also figures prominently in Kierkegaard's book Fear and Trembling (1843)?

14) Did von Trier mean for the family's sumptuous midnight front lawn (with its freaky shadows) to echo this scene from Last Year at Marionbad (1961)?

15) What happens to one's experience of time when one knows the world will end soon? According to the prelude, it slows down. The everydayness is gone. How much does Melancholia convey the tragic knowledge one would have if one's mortality was not contingent, if one knew that one will die tomorrow? How much would one's life fill with omens? How much would it take on the same eerily backlit, slow motion grandeur?

16) The whole film boils down to the three principal characters' ability to face the Gorgon--the knowledge of their annihilation. As Kafka wrote, "Can you know anything but illusion? If once illusion were destroyed you would never dare to look back; you would turn into a pillar of salt." In her depression, Justine does become immobilized, but then she finds that she can face it. One wonders, if she, like von Trier, takes some perverse pleasure in the imminent destruction of the earth.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

surveilled links

---Why the crackdown on Occupy?

"Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists' privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can't suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance."

---Why are Americans being "assaulted, clubbed, pepper-sprayed" for "exercising their right to free speech and assembly"?

---The Department of Homeland Security?

---"The Storm Within: Jeff Nichol's Take Shelter" by Scott Macauley

---Palestine and the "architecture of occupation"

---the great black Friday two dollar waffle iron riot

---preparing for the next dark age

---"Every year it becomes more difficult to keep within 2C [of warming above pre-industrial levels – the limit of safety, according to scientists, beyond which climate change becomes catastrophic and irreversible]."

---Greenwald's "What Endless War Looks Like":

"I’m sure we can all agree that we must endure years more of civil liberties assaults, endless war, bulging military budgets, suffocating government secrecy, a sprawling surveillance regime, and the slaughter of countless more Muslim children in order to save ourselves from this existential Lone Wolf threat. And that’s to say nothing of the fact that endless war, drone attacks, occupying countries, and engineering regime change is precisely what causes and fuels these threats in the first place. Indeed, NYPD’s Police Commission Raymond Kelly claimed that “Pimentel’s talk did not ‘turn to action’ until recently” when he “clearly ‘jacked up his speed after the elimination’ of the Yemeni cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by an American drone strike in September.” In other words, what little Terrorism does exist is caused directly by our own actions — the very actions justified in the name of stopping Terrorism."

---"it's getting harder and harder to grow any food at all"

---big data

---"Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor"

---6 silent films that inspired The Artist

---Enter the Void's title sequence

---Robert Hass: “You just knocked down my wife, for Christ’s sake!”

---Charles Taylor's problem with film criticism

---@biblioklept's "Newt's Children, Dystopian Visions, and Greenzone America"

---the classic films behind Hugo

---"Our Bella, Ourselves" by Sarah Blackwood:

"Bella Swan, by contrast, is a much more honest (though cringe-inducing) representation of adolescence. She doesn't know who she is or what she wants. She's clumsy, obtuse, and aggravating in her helplessness. She is also entirely internal, almost alienatingly so. One of my favorite passages from the novel New Moon is when Stephenie Meyer inserts a series of blank pages to stand in for the months that pass while Bella mourns — out of any reasonable proportion — Edward’s desertion. Bella, kind of wonderfully, takes her time.

This is an uncomfortable place for feminists, because this heroine is not particularly good at actualizing herself. Bella waits, she wallows, she thinks, and feels, and worries, and wonders. She does not actualize in the sense we have come to expect from our heroines, an expectation that, I might point out, is quite often based on a masculinist understanding of what being effective in the world looks like. Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of the popular The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo series, is emotionally stunted but, damn it, she actualizes herself! She punishes the people who hurt her, she sleeps with whomever she wishes, she zips around on a motorcycle, and she’s a master computer hacker. In other words, our actualized female heroine might as well be a tiny man."

---lastly, Miley Cyrus and the pop appropriation of revolution

Saturday, November 19, 2011

securitized links

---Anatomy of an Arrest

---Gilham's "Securitizing America":

"Under the strategy of escalated force police relied on spectacular shows of force that quickly escalated and often turned brutal and occasionally fatal. Frequently, police used force indiscriminately against both violent and non-violent protesters as an alternative to arresting people. By contrast, in negotiated management, the use of force was the tactic of last resort and even then was applied proportionally to threats displayed, and only at those clearly breaking the law (McPhail et al. 1998).

Under strategic incapacitation police have routinely used force selectively against perceived or actual transgressive protesters. Less-lethal weapons such as tear gas, pepper spray, Tasers, rubber bullets, wooden missiles and bean bag rounds are now the weapons of choice. They are less likely to maim or kill, although they have caused serious injury and death. Evidence suggests that police use these weapons as a means to temporarily incapacitate potentially disruptive protesters and repel others away from areas police are trying to defend such as entrances and exits to secured zones (Noakes and Gillham 2007)."

---10 tips for filming protests

---HDR timelapse video

---"What could be more central to Occupy’s guiding philosophy than the idea that the rule of law has been subverted by corporate interests?"

---preparing for the next great depression

---Charles Taylor's problem with film criticism

---Olbermann's thoughts on the clearing of Zuccotti Park

---"What drives the spread of surveillance is not a desire to diminish evil, but the desire to control."

---creating Scarface

---more relevant than ever: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

---Ohlin's "Our Zombies, Ourselves":

"Zombies, it turns out, have much to tell us about our lives in the 2010s. In the literature of the 1940s and 1950s, as critic Morris Dickstein points out in Leopards in the Temple, the Holocaust and the A-bomb rarely appeared explicitly; they seemed perhaps too big to grasp, and too far removed from the personal experience of many writers. What appeared instead was an undercurrent of anxiety shooting through both mainstream literature and popular culture, sublimated, displaced. Expression of the looming threat often took the form of fantastical creatures, especially in the B-movies and comic books that birthed the gigantic likes of Godzilla and the 50-foot woman.

If postwar fiction and popular culture were haunted by the technologies humans had made and the danger that they might backfire and destroy us completely, our own moment’s fears seem to take on a more manageable, face-to-face, if no less terrifying character. We live in an era of rampant overpopulation, ever-increasing consumption, and limited resources, and our monster of choice, today, is the zombie. The current zombie renaissance — and make no mistake, they are everywhere, from movies like 28 Days Later, Resident Evil, Zombieland, The Walking Dead to the proclamations of the Center for Disease Control, which last spring issued tongue-in-cheek preparedness guidelines for the zombie apocalypse (`If zombies did start roaming the streets, CDC would conduct an investigation much like any other disease outbreak') — is a clear descendent of the kind of displaced cultural anxiety Dickstein diagnoses, but with a difference. Zombies aren’t space invaders or giant insects; they’re not `others' in the way most monsters are. They’re human victims, really, who can’t control what they do. They are uncomfortably, uncannily close to being just like us: our zombies, ourselves."

---Filmmaking techniques by Tim O'Riordan

---Robokopter Zamieski

---Annie Leonard's Story of Broke

---a scene from Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love

---Mike Figgis interviews Jodie Foster

---"Suppressing nonviolent dissent": an anthology

---Linsky's "@longformorg guide to the making of movies"

---trailers for Rampart, Brave, Mirror Mirror, The Iron Lady, and a featurette for The Descendants

---Craig reviews Kellow's Pauline Kael

---an (exclusively male) director's roundtable

---lastly, the political courage of Elizabeth Warren

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Citizen Hoover: 7 notes on Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar

As I sat amongst the elderly audience at my local cineplex, I could only focus on J. Edgar's problems even as I kept thinking of Richard Brody's appeal for critics to be careful with their glib judgments of this film. As he writes, "Most critics, myself included, lapse into the shoddy shorthand of our own pleasures when we feel constrained in space or time. But a substantial movie such as J. Edgar deserves better; it deserves a consideration of why Eastwood made it to become what it is." Yes, I agree, but still. Here are some of my issues with the film:

1) J. Edgar has so many correspondences with The Social Network, I couldn't help but wonder if Eastwood was emulating David Fincher. With Hammer appearing often as Hoover's trusted pseudo-love interest/right-hand man, I kept thinking that he's got one of the Winklevii brothers to add class to his Citizen Kane-esque tale of power and corruption. Aaron Sorkin's narrative tendency to skip back and forth in time worked well in The Social Network. The 2010 film's brew of billion-dollar lawsuits, Harvard undergraduate social climbing, and Zuckerberg's computer geek near-autistic detachment formed a compelling mix, in part because so much money was at stake even before you knew exactly how Zuckerberg earned it. In J. Edgar, a geeky but well-dressed career bureaucrat faces congressional criticism, multiple presidents trying to undermine his power, and a lifelong blocked urge to wear a dress. The future does not hang over the early years as dramatically. In The Social Network, no one ages all that much (the real Zuckerberg is still astonishingly only 27 years old), so no one has to focus on their makeup. Whereas Sorkin's screenplay uses the time shifting technique to disorient the viewer with its whip smart switchbacks, in J. Edgar writer Dustin Lance Black (of Milk) uses the same device to obfuscate and complicate an otherwise straightforward story.

2) J. Edgar begins with a shot of Hoover in his corpulent old age, a narrative maneuver that instantly made the movie less plausible. I couldn't suspend my disbelief that I was looking at actual old people given the familiarity of the movie stars in question. When the film jumps back and forth in time, having J. Edgar suddenly rejuvenated by 30 years with his second-hand man Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) in the midst of an elevator ride quickly juxtaposed with their youthful lovers' quarrel, the shifting only highlights the problems of believability. We also see them soon afterward in advanced age as they watch the horse races (leaving the viewer saying "Man, how they've grown old together").

As much as anything, the film is a study in aging, but I could never believe in the transformation--Tolson nodding and looking enfeebled after a stroke, DiCaprio bent over and looking glum with his horned-rim glasses. As Hoover cracks open a soft-boiled egg with a fork, Armie Hammer looks disarmingly like David Bowie's aged-a-hundred-years-in-a-day vampire John in The Hunger (1983).

3) J. Edgar also has many correspondences to Citizen Kane (1941), another movie with a chopped-up timeline. (Jay Rober Nash's 1972 biography was entitled Citizen Hoover.) What do Kane and Hoover have in common? Both films feature ambivalent figures highly interested in controlling their public image. They both follow their rise to fame with late grumpy ironic corruption, but whereas Kane remains fundamentally inscrutable, Eastwood's Hoover keeps giving away his secrets (I found I preferred the mysterious and fragmented picture I had of the real-life Hoover to the explained one on the screen). So, [spoiler alert] after a lovers' spat with Tolson, Hoover says "I love you" under his breath (such cruel irony--Tolson doesn't hear him). Hoover didn't like to dance with women, so his domineering Ma Annie (Judi Dench), teaches him how in her bedroom. Annie's relationship with J. reminded me of Hitchcock's weirdness around his mother as he reported to her bedside with much Catholic guilt whenever he transgressed. Still, Kane retains a little potency and mystery as he walks past his hall of mirrors in Xanadu. Hoover rants against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also falls and weeps on the bedroom floor after putting on his mother's dress and pearls. It seems typical of Eastwood's and Black's methods to enhance that latter scene with anguished melodrama. Why couldn't they allow Hoover to enjoy his transvestism?

4) For decades, Hoover never changed his methods for holding on to power all that much. He is always the career-opportunist, finding ways to enhance his pet project, the FBI, with careful public relations marketing strategies (G-men promotion on Post Toasties cereal boxes) and proper fashion choices (tailored suits, 1950s tapered haircuts, no mustaches). In his superficial way, Hoover is nothing if not detail-oriented and efficient, but even with all of the self-loathing sexual repression going on, efficiency is rather dull to watch. Orson Welles masked some of the conventionalities of his story of one man's rise to world prominence with his charisma as an actor and his idiosyncratic film technique that, as Scorsese points out, calls the viewer's attention to the director's decisions behind the camera. In comparison, Eastwood's direction of J. Edgar is efficient but not as flashy.

5) At one point, Hoover claps a little too long after the Lindbergh baby kidnapper Richard Bruno Hauptmann was sentenced to death. Did Eastwood intend to draw a correlation between Hoover's carefully staged prosecution and Kane's attempt to use his propagandistic power to force the public to accept his second wife's Susan Alexander's opera career?

6) In the end, all of J. Edgar's allusions to The Social Network and Citizen Kane mostly betray how the later film would like to join the pantheon. In the process of having examined his career closely, J. Edgar ends up depicting a reduced figure henpecked by his own need to maintain appearances, hold on to power, and deny his affections. His mass of repressive symptoms are certainly dramatic, but I still prefer Billy Crudup's much briefer and more evocative version of Hoover in Public Enemies (2009).

7) Ultimately, the chief drawback of J. Edgar consists of the man himself. As the movie shifts back to the 1930s, Eastwood makes a point of showing reaction shots of audiences smirking and preferring gangster film heroes like James Cagney in Public Enemy to Hoover's public relations efforts to glorify the FBI. After watching 137 minutes of J. Edgar Hoover's fussy inadequacies, I can sympathize with the moviegoers.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

remodernist links

---World Order's "2012"

---Neyfakh's "The rise of punkademia"

---Ron Meyer confesses "Land of the Lost was just crap. I mean, there was no excuse for it" as Guy Adams examines the decline of the movie industry:

"There's very real anxiety in the movie business," says Kim Masters, editor-at-large of The Hollywood Reporter. "Audiences, and young people especially, are just not turning out to the cinema in the numbers they were. In fact, there's a joke going around town, though people are saying it through gritted teeth: $20m is the new $60m. What it means is that movies which used to bring in $60m in their opening weekend are now doing a third of that amount."

---Nussbaum's "The Rebirth of the Feminist Manifesto" and the Remodernist film manifesto

---classic video game deaths

---an encounter with the Oakland police

---David Lynch's music

---Lopate reviews Kellow's Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark

---deBoer's "The Resentment Machine":

"The value-through-what-is-consumed is entirely illusory. There is no there there. This is what you can really learn about a person by understanding his or her cultural consumption, the movies, music, fashion, media, and assorted other socially inflected ephemera: nothing. Absolutely nothing. The internet writ large is desperately invested in the idea that liking, say, The Wire, says something of depth and importance about the liker, and certainly that the preference for this show to CSI tells everything. Likewise, the internet exists to perpetuate the idea that there is some meaningful difference between fans of this band or that, of Android or Apple, or that there is a Slate lifestyle and a This Recording lifestyle and one for The Hairpin or wherever. Not a word of it is true. There are no Apple people. Buying an iPad does nothing to delineate you from anyone else. Nothing separates a Budweiser man from a microbrew guy. That our society insists that there are differences here is only our longest con.

This endless posturing, pregnant with anxiety and roiling with class resentment, ultimately pleases no one. Yet this emptiness doesn’t compel people to turn away from the sorting mechanism. Instead, it draws them further and further in. Faced with the failure of their cultural affinities to define an authentic and fulfilling self, postcollegiate middle-class upwardly-oriented-if-not-upwardly-mobile Americans double down on the importance of these affinities and confront the continued failure with a formless resentment. The bitterness that surrounds these distinctions is a product of their inability to actually make us distinct."

---the problem with pictures under glass

---Bell's "Hellish Productions of Six Great Movies"

---"we are a nation of prisonkeepers"

---Ryan Gosling saying nothing

---Lethem's issues with James Wood's review of The Fortress of Solitude

---Kasman's notes on Unstoppable

---lastly, Tom Waits and Iggy Pop in Coffee and Cigarettes

Saturday, November 5, 2011

shock links

---Film Students Getting Punched

---God's eye view

---Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine

---13 movie poster trends

---Book: A Futurist's Manifesto:

"In a digital realm, true content solutions are increasingly built with open APIs, something containers are pretty bad at. APIs—application programming interfaces—provide users with a roadmap that lets them customize their content consumption.

The physical forms of books, magazines, and newspapers have user interfaces that predate APIs. We’ve all figured out how to access the information contained in these physical products. But, the physical form itself does not always make for a good user interface, something that Craigslist, the Huffington Post, Cookstr, and others have capitalized on.

Open up your API, I contend, or someone else will.

Many current audiences (and all future ones) live in an open and accessible environment. They expect to be able to look under the hood, mix and match chunks of content, and create, seamlessly, something of their own. Failure to meet those needs will result in obscurity, at best."

---"Make a movie every week. Write every night." Filmmaking advice from Tarantino and Raimi

---how headlines are created

---Radical America

---Limbo VFX reel

---"a single burned DVD is effectively a civilization starter kit"

---"bicycles for the mind"--Silberman explores Steve Jobs' relationship to Zen:

"As a young seeker in the ’70s, Jobs didn’t just dabble in Zen, appropriating its elliptical aesthetic as a kind of exotic cologne. He turns out to have been a serious, diligent practitioner who undertook lengthy meditation retreats at Tassajara — the first Zen monastery in America, located at the end of a twisting dirt road in the mountains above Carmel — spending weeks on end “facing the wall,” as Zen students say, to observe the activity of his own mind.

Why would a former phone phreak who perseverated over the design of motherboards be interested in doing that? Using the mind to watch the mind, and ultimately to change how the mind works, is known in cognitive psychology as metacognition. Beneath the poetic cultural trappings of Buddhism, what intensive meditation offers to long-term practitioners is a kind of metacognitive hack of the human operating system (a metaphor that probably crossed Jobs’ mind at some point.) Sitting zazen offered Jobs a practical technique for upgrading the motherboard in his head.

The classic Buddhist image of this hack is that thoughts are like clouds passing through a spacious blue sky. All your life, you’ve been convinced that this succession of clouds comprises a stable, enduring identity — a “self.” But Buddhists believe this self this is an illusion that causes unnecessary suffering as you inevitably face change, loss, disease, old age, and death. One aim of practice is to reveal the gaps or discontinuities — the glimpses of blue sky — between the thoughts, so you’re not so taken in by the illusion, but instead learn to identify with the panoramic awareness in which the clouds arise and disappear."

---Lezard's short history of Cahiers du Cinema

---stop-motion Tintin

---Liang's "Camera Movement in Max Ophul's films" (thanks to @filmstudiesff)

---Joseph Mitchell's "Up in the Old Hotel"

---the draconian effects of the Stop Online Piracy Act

---the secrets of the McRib that involves heart, tripe, tongue, scalded stomachs

---"Freeing themselves from the constraining expectations of naturalism, those moments embody the culturally confrontational fact that compared with all other art forms, musicals have the greatest vocabulary for sustained joy."

---"The global economy will remain a horrific disaster for another decade and we’re facing worldwide environmental catastrophe, so we must never, ever cut funding for the Army. Got it."

---Saul Bass: A Life in Film and Design

---a letter from Madonna

---Page Eight trailer

---Ingram considers the implications of digital ownership

---the hunt for Blue Velvet's lost footage

---lastly, Eddie Murphy's career arc