Sunday, September 28, 2014

mediascape links

---The Peter Sellers Story: As He Filmed It

---an excerpt from William Gibson's The Peripheral

---All That Jazz: Fosse Time by Matt Zoller Seitz

---Three Reasons: Macbeth

---Don't Look Now behind the scenes

---"The personal blog is an important, under-respected art form. While blogs as a medium are basically just the default format for sharing timely information or doing simple publishing online, the personal blog is every bit as important an expressive medium as the novel or the zine or any visual arts medium. As a culture, we don't afford them the same respect, but it's an art form that has meant as much to me, and revealed as many truths to me, as the films I have seen and the books I have read, and I'm so thankful for that."  --Anil Dash

---"Mr. Anderson said his adaptation came into focus when he recalled an old quote from 'Chandler or Hammett or one of those guys who said the point of a plot in a detective movie is to get your hero to the next girl to flirt with.' After that, he said, his approach became, 'When’s the next girl or funny bit going to happen?'" --Logan Hill

---Greta Gerwig and Sarah Polley discuss Frances Ha

---"This is why digital filmmaking has been unkind to Gilliam. Even though his work can take years to accomplish, and has made him anathema among cost-conscious producers, once it's onscreen it has a power and integrity that comes from Gilliam and his team moving heavy things around, or treating the frame like a hoarder's den. In the same way Werner Herzog wouldn't use CGI to "drag" a steamship over a mountain, Gilliam shouldn't allow himself to be seduced by technology that allows him to splay the contents of his brain semi-directly onto film. But that's been the case with recent Gilliam efforts. From 2005's The Brothers Grimm onward, his filmmaking has lost much of its tactile, junk-shop appeal." --Michael Sicinski

 ---The Films of Alfonso Cuaron

---"'Why do they have to be so mean?' Refn says after reading a voracious takedown of his movie by Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeffrey Wells. 'In a way,' she responds, 'you asked for it.'" --Eric Kohn

---the Dear White People PSAs

---"I was writing a dissertation on Ozu, time, and modernity (not in cinema studies but in critical theory) when I decided to stop and make films instead. Most of my critical writing on film resides in this unfinished dissertation. But I think my work is partly an outgrowth of that critical engagement, as well as an outgrowth of our evolving mediascape, which not only makes such work possible but cultivates it."  --::kogonada

---trailers for Jupiter Ascending, Blackhat, The Babadook, and Mommy

---"Maps to the Stars broods on how celebrity corrupts the fallible. It’s also something of a bitchfest; a blood-letting that Cusack enjoys having a stake in. Hollywood today is closer to Wagner’s vision than we realise, he says. It’s no longer a place, it’s a nostalgic idea. The mega-corporations have stepped in, bringing with them the era of the 50-producer movie. In modern Hollywood the franchise is king, the star is used as leverage. 'You can’t make it up,' says Cusack. 'It’s a whorehouse and people go mad.'" --Henry Barnes

---The Eyes of Hitchcock

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Digging ourselves to death: a review of Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything

Tired of the supernatural hullaballoo towards the end of David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, I walked into the local Barnes and Noble last week looking for something post-apocalyptic to read, and for some reason I bought Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything. I was a big fan of her 1999 No Logo, and I figured what might be more bleak fun to read than a book that relentlessly keeps its focus on climate change? I didn't expect to be held transfixed by her argument. I got into arguments with my colleagues about investing in Exxon-Mobil, and I was struck by the difference between their fatalism about the climate change crisis (what Bill McKibben calls "the overwhelming sense around the world [that] nothing will happen in time") and Klein's sense of hope about the issue. Another colleague pointed out that many of our planetary problems would be solved if half of the human population could magically disappear, but Klein barely touches on that kind of thinking. Her portrait of systemic environmental degradation, polluted skies, and rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere consistently refuses to give in to despair, although she admits to feelings of "pre-loss" or the "morbid habit" of picturing a beautiful nature scene in front of her as already despoiled. Whether one agrees with her or not, Klein's book clarifies the issue of climate change and gives it a sense of immediate political and economic urgency. She posits that we can continue our current course of "climate-change-fueled disaster capitalism" until planet Earth cooks, or we will need to radically revisit all kinds of basic economic principles, political assumptions, and extractivist practices to keep the world temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius over the next few decades. At times, This Changes Everything reads like a very real yet grim dystopian thriller in which the author refuses to give in to the expected unhappy ending.

One thing is certain: Klein's book has a clear villain--the oil companies. As she writes, "From the perspective of a fossil fuel company, going after these high-risk carbon deposits is not a matter of choice--it is its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders . . . yet fulfilling that fiduciary responsibility guarantees that the planet will cook" (148). Her observation had me wondering about how much do we individually and habitually consume petroleum-based products, and how easy would it be for anyone to switch over to only using renewable energy? When I get up in the morning, I drink coffee from Colombia, brush my teeth with a plastic toothbrush, drive to work in a car, work in air conditioning, eat food that has travelled great distances, buy a book, etc. The thought of how I might begin to cut back on this enhanced life style proves daunting given how just about every aspect of it ties in with the premise of having cheap abundant fossil fuel. Klein does include a chapter in her book entitled "Beyond Extractivism: Confronting the Climate Denier Within," but our way of life is so energy-intensive in the United States that it seems nearly impossible to fundamentally change that addiction within 30 years before nature finds another way to take care of the problem. The challenge seems so insurmountably great, Klein's solutions can take on a Pollyanna quality of dreamy wish-fulfillment. Klein anticipates that critique by reasserting that the climate allows us no choice but to think and act in radically different ways.

I especially liked Klein's history of the small island of Nauru, a cautionary tale that reads like Jared Diamond's description of Easter Island in his 2011 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Once called Pleasant Isle, Nauru began as an beatific oasis of "coconut palms, tranquil beaches, and thatched huts" (162), but then colonizers started to "mine phosphate until the island was an empty shell" (163). One could then look upon its environmental degradation with "solastalgia" or "the homesickness you have when are still at home." Klein quotes Glenn Albrecht's claim that this solastalgia has become a feeling that we all increasingly share: "A feeling of global dread asserts itself as the planet heats and our climate gets more hostile and unpredictable" (165).

As time went on and the surrounding ocean continued to rise, Nauru became menaced both within and without, threatened both by floods and mining. As Klein writes, "In a 2007 cable about Nauru made public by Wikileaks, an unnamed U.S. official summed up his government analysis of what went wrong on the island: 'Nauru simply spent extravagantly, never worrying about tomorrow.' Fair enough, but that diagnosis is hardly unique to Nauru; our entire culture is extravagantly drawing down finite resources, never worrying about tomorrow. For a couple of hundred years we have been telling ourselves that we can dig the midnight black remains of other life forms out of the bowels of the earth, burn them in massive quantities, and that the airborne particles and gases released into the atmosphere--because we can't see them--will have no effect whatsoever. Or if they do, we humans, brilliant as we are, will just invent our way out of whatever mess we have made."

"And we tell ourselves all kinds of similarly implausible no-consequences stories all of the time, about how we can ravage the world and suffer no adverse effects. Indeed we are always surprised when it works out otherwise. We extract and do not replenish and wonder why the fish have disappeared and the soil requires ever more 'inputs' (like phosphate) to stay fertile. We occupy countries and arm their militias and then wonder why they hate us. We drive down wages, ship jobs overseas, destroy worker protections, hollow out local economies, then wonder why people can't afford to shop as much as they used to. We offer those failed shoppers subprime mortgages instead of steady jobs and then wonder why no one foresaw that a system built on bad debts would collapse."

"At every stage our actions are marked by a lack of respect for the powers we are unleashing--a certainty, or at least a hope, that the nature we have turned to garbage, and the people we have treated like garbage, will not come back to haunt us" (165-6). As Klein concludes, "In other words, Nauru isn't the only one digging itself to death; we all are" (168).

Overall, This Changes Everything exudes a sense of cosmic payback, a drama of damnation that could punish us all just as the rich living in China cannot elude their polluted air. Today, in New York City, and across the world, people are marching in the People's Climate March. Having studied the topic of climate change for the past 10 years, Klein has some thoughtful, at-times radical ideas as to how to solve it. A very good reason to read her book.

Related links:

---"the evolution of the 'climate change' film"

---Klein's "Climate Change Is a People's Shock"

---Leonardo DiCaprio's UN Climate Summit speech

---Klein on the "greenwashing" of big business

---"At the moment, the overwhelming sense around the world is nothing will happen in time. That's on the verge of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy – indeed, as I've written in these pages, it's very clear that the fossil-fuel industry has five times as much carbon in its reserves as it would take to break the planet. On current trajectories, the industry will burn it, and governments will make only small whimpering noises about changing the speed at which it happens. A loud movement – one that gives our 'leaders' permission to actually lead, and then scares them into doing so – is the only hope of upending that prophecy."  --from "A Call to Arms: An Invitation to Demand Action on Climate Change" by Bill McKibben

---What's Possible

---"I was never really a marcher." --Naomi Klein

Saturday, September 20, 2014

soulless links

---History of Stop Motion

---Being There

---vintage Hollywood contact sheets by Karina Longworth

---Roman Polanski and Rosemary's Baby

---10 screenwriting blogs


---Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity: A Look Back

---"I mention all this because its weave is the leitmotif informing David Cronenberg’s film of my script Maps to the Stars. Contrary to critics’ easy characterisation, it doesn’t have a satirical bone in its elegiac, messy, hysterical body. I’ve given you the lay of the land as I see it, saw it, and lived it. Maps is the saga of a doomed actress, haunted by the spectre of her legendary mother; of a child star ruined by early celebrity, fallen prey to addiction and the hallucination of phantoms; of the mutilation, both real and metaphorical, sometimes caused by fame and its attendants – riches, shame and nightmare. I see our movie as a ghost play, not a satire." --Bruce Wagner

---stealth fashion for the under-surveillance society

---Cinephilia and Beyond revamped

---waiting for the iPhone 6

---the trailer for the 52nd New York Film Festival

---"How to make a living in independent film?"

---how to make an audiovisual essay

---Dear White People featurette

---Richard Brody appreciates All About Eve

---Type Safari with James Victore

---"There are plenty of great films of the late sixties and seventies that employ the bleakness at hand, but, when Pauline Kael said that she loved Get Carter because it was so 'calculatedly cool and soulless and nastily erotic,' she was pointing out the lengths to which the film went to paint everyone with the same brush. The city of Newcastle plays a major role as do the old rows of housing, their lack of indoor plumbing featured, but it’s really this coastline and the unceasing coal skips that bring the point home." --Drew Johnson

---trailers for Low Down, Big Eyes, A Most Violent Year, Force Majeure, Camp X-Ray, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Listen Up Philip, and The Riot Club

---"Unfortunately, another type of political adaptation is already under way—that of the armed lifeboat. This adaptation responds to climate change by arming, excluding, forgetting, repressing, policing, and killing." --Christian Parenti

---"I don't think I'm right yet on 'I'm going to kill the wabbit!' am I?"

---Steve McQueen: The Power of Cinema

---Captain America: The Winter Soldier main-on-end titles

---Star Wars Minus Williams

---"Just how far has the US strayed from this basic principle in its mass surveillance practices? Very far. The existence of the mass surveillance was kept officially secret from the world for over a decade, from when it started in earnest in 2001 until June of 2013 after the Snowden revelations. The surveillance at first had no judicial authorization whatsoever. Various pieces of it were brought under judicial authority --  email records in 2004, U.S. domestic telephone records in 2006 and backbone and other content collection in 2007 -- but these court decisions also happened entirely in secret, so the public still didn't know. Even today, large amounts of both the case law and the Executive Branch’s internal legal guidance have been kept from the public." --Cindy Cohn

---Chis Ware's The Last Saturday

Saturday, September 13, 2014

"Soda is the cigarette of the 21st century": 7 notes on the pleasures of Fed Up

1) My wife and I disagree on a key point when it comes to the new documentary Fed Up (now available on DVD and Blu-ray). She claims that the tendency to make cigarettes and sugary processed food and drinks equivalent is too simple. One can eat sugar in small amounts; in fact, our bodies are designed to take in and process sugars. Smoking cigarettes and taking into the body their poisonous by-products of tar and nicotine is something the body was not designed to do.  Thus, to equate the two too closely creates a false dichotomy. Several years ago, I wrote a positive review of Allan M. Brandt's The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America (2007), so perhaps my perspective of the evils of the food industry has been influenced by that book, but still . . . I think that the correlation is accurate when one considers the amount of sugar we're talking about in today's fast food eating culture. There are too many corporations with enormous lobbying power pretending that they don't already know that excessive sugar consumption is making many people overweight. Instead, we are supposed to believe that all calories are equal. If lazy people would just get out there and exercise some more and eat more low-fat processed food, then the problem with the obesity epidemic will magically disappear. But, as Fed Up shows us, all calories are not created equally, and specifically soda cans should (and probably will) carry warning labels (just as in the case of cigarette packaging) that warn of the eventual risk of diabetes and obesity.

2) As Fed Up points out, we now know that cigarette smoking is a disgusting addiction, but to talk of sugar as habit-forming is a trickier thing to bring up. What a killjoy idea--demonizing chocolate and ice cream? Ever since I significantly cut down on my sugar consumption two Augusts ago, I have fantasized of driving to the local Krispy Kreme and purchasing a 12 pack of their fresh hot glazed donuts and a jug of chocolate milk and indulging in an unheard of blissful feast. My lizard brain still thrills to the thought, but, two Augusts ago, I pretty quickly lost 15 lbs, and I like being thinner, even if, as my wife points out, I can be insufferably holier than thou on the subject of sugar (and my diet is still highly flawed as it contains too much red meat). Now, with the help of Katie Couric, a new documentary completely confirms my biases on the matter, so I highly recommend it as a kind of counter programming public service message for the next time you visit the grocery store. Some of the basic points of the movie are as follows:

3) "By 2050, 1 out of every 3 Americans will have diabetes."

4) "There are 600,000 food items in America: 80% contain added sugar."

5) "The behaviors that we associate with obesity--the eating too much, exercising too little, the gluttony and sloth--they are the result of the biochemistry, not the cause."

6) "To eat healthy, you must work hard against the environment." I am still freshly astonished by the amount of marketing devoted to Coca-Cola and Sprite whenever I sit through the ads before watching a movie at the local Regal Cineplex, ditto the prominent posters for soda at convenient stores, ditto the candy aisle near the check-out counter at most stores (including office supply stores). Once one gets sensitized to the evils of sugar, so many prominent retail spaces around town resemble a scene in John Carpenter's 1988 movie They Live. Processed food marketing is cheerfully omnipresent.

7) Even though Fed Up can be a bit heavy-handed (as I admit this blog post may be) as it cuts from one overweight child's story after another, the rest of the movie's skillful use of graphics allows its basic message to come across well. The film is rhetorical, but it knows that it's up against a sophisticated systematic campaign of untruth. We have grown used to a steady diet of way too much sugar, and advertising have conditioned us to eat and drink it.  How much are McDonald's and Burger King and other fast food conglomerates at fault, complicit in the pattern of lies? How much do the executives at McDonald's power-pack their menu items with sugar just as the folks at Philip Morris USA dose their cigarettes with enhanced nicotine as explored in Michael Mann's movie The Insider (1999)? Do we even understand how sugar affects our brains? How much do cynical people-- corporations, lobbyists, insurance companies (see below), etc.--profit from our miserable compulsive consumption? How soon will they be seen as the 21st century version of the big tobacco executives lying on the witness stand as they say: "I believe nicotine is not addictive"?

Monday, September 8, 2014

compound distraction links

---"I’ve seen the best minds of my generation sucked dry by the economics of the infinite scroll. Amidst the innovation fatigue inherent to a world with more phones than people, we’ve experienced a spectacular failure of the imagination and turned the internet, likely the only thing between us and a very dark future, into little more than a glorified counting machine." --Douglas Haddow

---"The Masked Avengers" by David Kushner

---"Today's rarest commodity is the chance to be alone with your thoughts. . . .

Compound Distraction--The experience of one person’s distraction compounding another’s. Julie kept texting while I was talking about my dog, so I started texting, too. Exists in two varietals: Limited Compound Distraction refers to a moment of positive feedback distraction (i.e. Bailey kept texting while I was telling him about the exam so I started Tweeting about it instead) whereas Assumed Compound Distraction refers to a pre-determined atmosphere of distraction wherein sustained, meaningful interaction feels awkward and unwelcome. (i.e. Harry and Bryce mumbled to each other about Iran while scrolling through the news on their respective phones)"  --Michael Harris

---Wes Anderson's Vehicles

---"The average American adult spends about 7.4 hours per day looking at screens."

---"Should studios be worried? I think they should be, a little. It’s probably not a complete coincidence that the year’s biggest surprise hit, The Lego Movie, is a self-aware fable predicting an eventual revolt by a captive audience that’s tired of being told that everything is awesome when everything isn’t. Accordingly, this summer provided a jolting reminder that there are some things even unstoppable systematized marketing can’t overcome"  --Mark Harris

---What is composition?

---"the spread of an aggressive brand of policing that has spurred the seizure of hundreds of millions of dollars in cash from motorists and others not charged with crimes, a Washington Post investigation found. Thousands of people have been forced to fight legal battles that can last more than a year to get their money back."

---The Rise of the SWAT Team in American Policing

---"How Robert Pattinson became cool"

---"The lack of interruption in trains of thought may be the critical ingredient in an environment that enables creative flow. As long as a writer can tune out background noise, the decibel level per se may be unimportant. For some writers, the dripping of a faucet may be more disruptive than the bustle of a cafe in the heart of a city."

---Experience the power of a Bookbook

---25 films directed by female directors

---trailers for Being There, In the BasementEden, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, Samba, Attila Marcel, The Humbling, Clouds of Sils Maria, This Is Where I Leave You, Cymbelineand Pasolini

---"As Limits to Growth concluded in 1972:

'If the present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continue unchanged, the limits to growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years. The most probable result will be a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.'

So far, there’s little to indicate they got that wrong."