Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pauline Kael and David Denby

I've been mesmerized by Brian Kellow's revelations in his new book Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark. Her very gradual rise to fame, her precocity, and her unheard-of level of influence seem freakish--Greek drama for those who admire writers. Kael would receive nice letters from Carol Burnett and Barbra Streisand after she panned their movies. Sam Peckinpah would send her flowers every time she visited Los Angeles. Robert Altman would take her out to dinner. Woody Allen would commiserate with her after Peter Bogdanovich dared to question her research of her Raising Kane book. The intrigues, the late night writing sessions with Wild Turkey whiskey and cigarettes, the betrayals! Meanwhile, today's film blogger, uh, checks his stats.

Here's Kellow's account of Kael's relationship with the youthful David Denby:

"Already the legend of Pauline's inner circle of film proteges was building. Inclusion in the group was pursued, often desperately, by outsiders. But there were no guarantees of safety at any point. David Denby was a writer in his late twenties who had a burning ambition to become a critic. Pauline met him in 1967, while he was a student at the Columbia University School of Journalism. She got along well with Denby, who assumed an enviable position in the Kael circle, spending many late nights into the morning at the Turin, listening in rapt fascination as she debated with her other guests and, as Denby recalled, mowed down `the reputations of virtually every writer in town.'

At this point Denby felt that he had been inducted into the literary boot camp of his dreams. Pauline might endlessly hector him and her other proteges about their thoughts and opinions, constantly pressing them to go further and deeper in their writing, to sort out and sharpen their ideas on the page. She could openly badger them about what she considered their middlebrow taste, but she was so witty and engaging that `those who didn't turn away in anger were convinced she was rough on them for their own good. At least, that was the promise.' She enjoyed playing the role of the tough fourth-grade teacher that so many writers crave: She held the young critics she took up to a dizzyingly high standard, going over their articles line by line--endlessly devoted, it seemed, to showing them how to improve their work. About one article of Denby's that was in progress, Pauline said `It's shit, honey . . . and if you don't make it better I'll stick pins in you.' Toward the end of Denby's time at Columbia, she suggested him for a film critic's post at The Atlantic Monthly, and he got the job.

The problem was that, by Denby's own admission, he was so drawn to, so dominated by Pauline's voice on the printed page that it crept into his own writing. She recognized her influence, too, and few things rankled her more than the awareness that her acolytes were blindly devoted to her. She loved being surrounded by like-minded people, but slavish imitators eventually invited her contempt. As far as Denby was concerned, Pauline's followers had to go along with the general outline of her thinking, but they couldn't be too obeisant; they had to demonstrate that they could think for themselves. When Pauline noticed the imitative streak in Denby's writing, she wasn't pleased. At some point during her New Yorker stint in 1972-3, Denby recalled, she telephoned him to tell him that she didn't think he had the right stuff. `You're too restless to be a writer,' she proclaimed. A few hours later, knowing that she had wounded him, she phoned again, telling him `I've thought about this seriously, honey. You should do something else with your energy.'

In Denby's case the student had for some time begun to be suspicious of the teacher and revolt against the rules of Pauline's private academy. He had come to doubt some of her opinions (her rave for Fiddler on the Roof particularly baffled him) and claimed to have been present at a lunch at a Chinese restaurant in New York at which she had laid the director Nicholas Ray out flat, pitilessly analyzing his films one by one and altogether dismissing a good many of them, to the point that `Ray, his face cast down into his shrimp and rice, hardly said a word.'

So, when greeted with Pauline's announcement that he was not fit for a career as a writer, Denby nervously disagreed with her and did the only thing he felt he could do: He withdrew from her life. They continued to see each other at professional gatherings in the years that followed--Denby would be film critic for New York and later The New Yorker--but Pauline never recanted her opinion. Denby would later recall the acute discomfort of being cast out not only by Pauline but by many of her acolytes, whom he had mistakenly considered friends. He would go on to an enviable career as a critic and commentator, but the hurt and humiliation that Pauline's rejection brought remained with him for years."

Friday, October 28, 2011

situationist links

---"End the wars and tax the rich."

---shooting an Iraq vet and the cover up

---iGlide dubstep

---the indispensable film books by @mattzollerseitz

---Situationist Occupy Wall Street:

"To overthrow the `pseudo-world' of the Spectacle, the Situationists proposed two `interventions.' The first was so-called detournement, a fancy word denoting the practice of doctoring existing works of art, advertisements or publications so as to subvert their meaning. In practice, detournement is an erudite variant of painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

The now-famous Adbusters poster calling on people to occupy Wall Street is a subtle detournement. Ironically slick, it features a ballet dancer pirouetting atop a charging bull, which not coincidentally calls to mind the famous Merrill Lynch “Bullish on America” ad. (Presumably those Merrill Lynch executives who lost billions in collateralized debt obligations, then walked away with $3.6 billion in bonuses – a third of the now-defunct company’s TARP bailout money – are even more bullish on America.) The ballet dancer is a pure Situationist icon: rather than being an allegory of earnest struggle, like a figure in a Stalinist boy-meets-tractor painting, she evades and exceeds politics.

The Situationists’ second intervention was even odder. It consisted of the derive, a `creative drift' through the city in search of a lost `psychogeography' in which streets and neighborhoods, seen anew, would yield their dark and ecstatic secrets."

---Madonna and Lola promote something

---Microsoft's brave new world of the omnipresent screen

---the Self-Styled Siren considers Pauline Kael:

"It’s another, patronizing strain in Kael bashing that gets under my skin. I could, if I wanted to indulge in the euphemism that Kael hated, call it a double standard. Jonathan Rosenbaum, for example, can write a dismissal of Ingmar Bergman in the pages of the New York Times, and encounter little more than vigorous dissent. Kael, though, is often presumed to have other motivations wafting around her little head. Gary Indiana, at Artforum (in a piece that Wolcott also quotes) sneers that Kael "clearly had a thing for Warren Beatty, for Paul Newman, for various stars whose worst performances, in her view, paradoxically contained their best work; she rhapsodized over horrible hack directors whose ‘honest’ formulaic dreck she preferred to ‘pretentious’ films by superior directors.” Funny he should mention that. I keep encountering writers who clearly have “a thing for” Kael--like Michael Atkinson, who memorialized her in the Village Voice as “the hot-pants Queen Victoria of American film criticism,” and “the focus of gossip (a film critic!) that speculated on her liaisons with colleagues and with certain testosterone-dizzy filmmakers.”

---trailers for Grim Night, The Lorax, Chronicle, Margin Call, Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, and Into the Abyss

---A. O. Scott picks 25th Hour

---Kakutani's interview with Woody Allen:

"I’ll think of an idea walking down the street, and I’ll mark it down immediately. And I always want to make it into something. I’ve never had a block. I’m talking within the limits of my abilities. But in my own small way, I’ve had an embarrassment of riches. I’ll have five ideas and I’m dying to do them all. It takes weeks or months where I agonize and obsess over which to do next. I wish sometimes someone would choose for me. If someone said, Do idea number three next, that would be fine. But I have never had any sense of running dry. People always ask me, Do you ever think you’ll wake up one morning and not be funny? That thought would never occur to me—it’s an odd thought and not realistic. Because funny and me are not separate. We’re one."

---Pencil Head

---Elvis Costello revisits "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes"

---Ed Howard and Jason Bellamy discuss Kubrick's Barry Lyndon:

"Instead of wrapping up loose ends, the epilogue provides an elegantly stated moral takeaway: `It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarreled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor they are all equal now.' That's the key to the film, and to Kubrick's attitude about Barry. It's a radical historical perspective that upturns all the artificial distinctions and boundaries raised by society and emphasizes the common humanity of all these people, most of them cruel and petty and greedy and foolish, whatever their class or background. They fight and scrape for some material rewards, for a noble title or riches, for the esteem granted by a lordship or a fancy estate, but they are all forgotten by time regardless. They all die and once in the ground there's nothing to distinguish the lords from the low-born, the kings from the con men, the sophisticated ladies from the farmers' wives.

In that respect, Barry Lyndon is the story of a man's wasted life. To answer your question, Kubrick sees Barry as a foolish man who never managed to grasp what's really important in life. He spends his whole life pursuing material rewards, claiming to be taking the long view—he desires security and comfort for his beloved son—but really existing in a very shortsighted manner. The film is about how petty and inconsequential life can be if we allow it to be, and about the folly of living with an eye towards posterity. In the pursuit of wealth and social status, Barry never seems to realize just how miserable his life has become. Kubrick is a master of depicting boredom and ugliness, and the nearly silent scenes of Barry and his wife endlessly shuffling papers and settling bills capture the emptiness of a life devoted exclusively to the material. The film's epilogue negates everything else that happens in the film; it's as though Kubrick is underlining just how little anything Barry does really matters in any larger sense. Kubrick sees Barry as a tragic figure, and the tragedy is not so much that he doesn't get what he wants, but that even if he had gotten it, it wouldn't have meant much, it wouldn't have made his life full or meaningful."

---David Graeber of Occupy Wall Street

---the making of GoodFellas

---"Population: The Last Taboo" by Julia Whitty:

"Planned or not, wanted or not, 139 million new people are added every year: more than an entire Japan, nearly an entire Russia, minus the homelands and the resources to go along with them. Countered against the 56 million deaths annually, our world gains 83 million extra people every year, the equivalent of another Iran. That's 1.6 million more humans alive this week than last week and 227,000 more people today than yesterday—all needing food, water, homes, and medicine for an average lifespan of 69 years. We are asking our world to supply an additional 2.1 trillion human-days of life support every single year. Eventually, most of these 83 million new people added every year will have kids, too."

---lastly, Steven Santos' Deep Focus: The Rapture

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sympathy for the Demon: 6 notes on Paranormal Activity 3

1) The first extraordinarily cheap Paranormal Activity (2007) generated a clever marketing phenomenon in its Blair Witch Project way. Next, a mechanized pool cleaner stole most of the scenes in the sequel. And now, in the third installment, Paranormal Activity 3 (directed by the makers of Catfish) shows signs of franchise fatigue. Hardly anyone showed up when I went to see it yesterday afternoon at the local Cineplex (although the movie did well enough at the box office). I found the repetition of the series' basic components increasingly wearisome--lots of surveillance shots of a suburban household at night portentously prefaced with titles like "Night 13: Sept. 10 1988."

2) As in PA and PA 2, much of the time in PA 3 you're watching nothing except empty tableaus of a comfortably bland suburban kitchen or bedroom. You wait for the next jump scare or irregularity such as a demon-possessed piece of furniture to shift about, a lamp to explode, or a family member to be thrown across the floor by occult forces. This time, the story goes back to 1988, when Katie of the first PA was a child living with her creepy younger sister Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown), her blithe mother Julie (Lauren Bittner), and her mother's boyfriend Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) who works as a videographer of weddings. Like so many in the guys in the franchise, Dennis likes to take video feeds of the household at night in his attempt to understand the weird noises, mysterious incidents, and a strange shape he thought he saw in the falling dust after a small earthquake interrupted a sex tape. Like his predecessors who had an equally morbid fascination, Dennis persists in this videotaping long after most people would quit and get the hell out of there.

3) Oddly, hardly any of PA 3's trailer shows up in the finished movie, and the promotional stills are inaccurate. Is that a clever new marketing strategy--to be almost completely misleading?

4) Plot-wise, the new PA concerns Kristi's imaginary (read demon) friend named Toby whom she likes to consult with at night. Toby can sometimes get quite angry, so he locks Katie in the dark crawl space beside the two sisters' bedroom. Other times, he claws the goofy family friend Randy (Dustin Ingram) after playing a supposedly friendly game of "Bloody Mary" with Katie in the bathroom (The basic strategy behind "Bloody Mary": you turn out the light, say "Bloody Mary" three times, and then wait for something spooky to occur). We learn through Dennis' research that "kids are more susceptible to spiritual activity," but most people would already know this from young Danny's similar ability to "shine" in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Danny's "friend" is named Tony, and he likes to say things like "Danny isn't here, Mrs. Torrence" in a spooky voice. At any rate, in PA 3, Dennis reads up on demonology and learns how a visiting demon "feeds on your fear," but he seems more interested in recording something paranormal than in the safety of his family. His girlfriend Julie thinks that all of this fuss might go away if Dennis would just turn off the cameras.

5) Sadly, I have long since stopped being scared by this kind of thing (it's not like one can get caught up in the improvisatory dialogue. Some sample quotes: "Something weird is going on," "Toby pulled my hair!" "You're like those people who see the Virgin Mary in their toast," "I look so fat," "You're at fault. No more cameras," and so on). So, to pass the time, I fiddled with my right earlobe, noted the cinematic allusion to the original Halloween (1978) when Toby dons a sheet and sneaks up on the baby sitter, and tried to remain patient until things got extra freaky late in the movie. I found the conclusion entertaining, but it still leaves behind the question as to how or why Dennis could even think of lugging an old video camera around and pointing it loosely in the right direction in the midst of a vicious climactic demonic takeover? Perhaps saving his life or his girlfriend's or her children's life might be more important? To his credit, Dennis does invent one clever DIY panning shot by tying his camera to the base of an oscillating fan that tends to turn away just when all of the furniture rises up in the air in the kitchen.

6) The Paranormal Activity franchise juxtaposes the banal creature comforts of Americans with an invisible menace intent upon their destruction. As the static shots of furniture accumulate, I could increasingly understand Toby's position.

Friday, October 21, 2011

propaganda links

---Scarlett Johansson's version of "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time"

---I Met the Walrus

---The Celluloid Closet

---Diane Keaton remembers her early career:

"But of course it wasn’t until I got the part of Kay Corleone in The Godfather that things really began to change. Here’s what I can’t forget about that first Godfather: Dick Smith, the Academy Award–winning makeup artist, and Al Pacino. It was Dick Smith’s idea to stick a ten-pound blonde wig on my head, where it sat throughout the entire movie like a ton of bricks. I hated that wig. I didn’t have a clue why I was cast as an elegant WASP.

Al Pacino and I were told to get to know each other before we auditioned for the movie. I met him at O’Neals’ bar near Lincoln Center. He had just been named the Most Promising New Broadway Actor in Does a Tiger Wear a Necktie? I was nervous. He seemed nervous too. I don’t remember talking about the script. I remember his killer Roman nose sitting in the middle of what remains a remarkable face. It was too bad he wasn’t available, but neither was I.

Oddly enough, it was after The Godfather that my working relationship with Woody really took off. He directed me for the first time in 1973 in Sleeper, and it was a piece of cake until the day Woody decided he wasn’t happy with a scene we were about to shoot. He went into his trailer and came out a half hour later with a new script. His character had become Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire, and mine was Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski. Marlon Brando? Besides being introduced to Mr. Brando at the reading of The Godfather, the only encounter we shared was when he passed me on the set and said, `Nice tits.' That wasn’t going to help. Then I remembered On the Waterfront and the line `I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.' I repeated it over and over before starting to memorize the lines. In the end Woody and I performed our Streetcar parody. But the memory of Terry Malloy’s `I coulda been somebody' is what remains."

---"David Fincher, Rooney Mara, and that Creepy Vogue profile" by Anne Helen Petersen

---"I'm not very interested in people."--Joan Didion

---Jay Smooth and Mike David consider the Occupy Wall Street movement:

"Bankers, recently interviewed in the New York Times, claim to find the Occupy protests little more than a nuisance arising from an unsophisticated understanding of the financial sector. They should be more careful. Indeed, they should probably quake before the image of the tumbrel.

Since 1987, African Americans have lost more than half of their net worth; Latinos, an incredible two-thirds. Five-and-a-half million manufacturing jobs have been lost in the United Sates since 2000, more than 42,000 factories closed, and an entire generation of college graduates now face the highest rate of downward mobility in American history.

Wreck the American dream and the common people will put on you some serious hurt. Or as Nada explains to his unwary assailants in Carpenter’s great film: `I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass…. and I’m all out of bubblegum.'"

---Jotly, the ultimate app

---Facebook holding records of deleted data "like the KGB"

---like an outtake from Something Wild, Demme's End the War, Tax the Rich, We're the 99%, Occupy Wall Street

---14 Fox News brainwashing techniques

---Generation X Agonistes

---Nathan Heller celebrates Pauline Kael:

"George Roy Hill, who had been at pains to shoot the movie outdoors, read her last line and wrote her a letter. `Listen, you miserable bitch,' he began, `you’ve got every right in the world to air your likes and dislikes, but you got no goddam right at all to fake, at my expense, a phony technical knowledge you simply don’t have.' To say that Kael enjoyed the note more than she’d liked the movie conveys the state of her critical armor at that time."

---another reason to visit McDonald's: in-house propaganda

---"We're now being assaulted by this 90 million tons of global warming pollution every day"--Al Gore

---Angeline Gragasin's Occupy: Los Angeles

---lastly, Kolbert on the 7 billionth child and Malthusian population limits

Sunday, October 16, 2011

cyber-punditry links

---base jump from the Hotel Bali elevator

---Disney masculinity

---Jay-Z's marketing

---12 laws designed to block Occupy Wall Street protests and "How can you occupy an abstraction?"

---Salman Rushdie visits Occupy Wall Street and Willie and Annie Nelson chime in. Also, Jesse LaGreca meets Fox News.

---Mike Judge and the genesis of Beavis and Butthead

---Tiffany Shlain and our addiction to social technology

---Dargis and Scott discuss the authority of Pauline Kael

---"In the past 30 years, 96% of the growth of average incomes in this country have gone to the richest 10% of the country. And in the past 10 years, the incomes of the other 90% have declined."

---poet Charles Simic keeps a little notebook:

"Who described a book as an autoerotic classic? Who said: Our blindness prevents us from seeing our madness? Who made the observation that all donkeys look sad? Spoke of poetry’s hideous imprisonment in language? Called the United Sates an empire in a search of a graveyard? Described someone as a eulogist of torture? Likened our political system to a bordello, where our elected officials parade naked before an audience of seated generals, fundamentalist preachers and bankers? Who said: The eye knows things the mouth cannot say?

I have no idea."

---Shame trailer

---7 disruptive innovations and the 7 biggest economic lies

---"It's lonely in the modern world."

---Fincher's digital nostalgia by Todd Kushigemachi

---Tim Burton's Vincent

---behind the scenes of The Skin I Live In

---the fun of editing The Tree of Life:

"Yoshikawa observes that while the director has a very deep understanding of the technology of film, he prefers to speak in metaphors. `Terry isn’t the kind of guy who would ever give a direction like, ‘Cut ten frames from this shot.’ He’d rather say something like, ‘Make this scene feel more like a fleeting thought.’"

---Morozov critiques Jeff Jarvis' Public Parts:

"WERE IT JUST an isolated case of hyperventilating cyber-punditry, there would be few reasons to fret too much about Private Parts.

But the oracular Jarvis plays a consequential role in shaping how we see, design, and regulate the Internet. (Anyone doubting his influence should watch a YouTube clip of him hectoring Nicolas Sarkozy about Internet policy at a recent VIP gathering in Paris.) He is in some ways the personification of the Internet intellectual.

Like most Internet intellectuals, Jarvis is the Technology Man—the successor to the History Man of Bradbury’s novel. While the fictional Howard Kirk turned to Hegelianism and Marxism (of the most vulgar variety) to explain everything in terms of the grand and inexorable march of history, Jarvis has another reference point, another sacred telos: the equally grand and equally inexorable march of the Internet, which in his view is a technology that generates its own norms, its own laws, its own people. (He likes to speak of “us, people of the Net.”) For the Technology Man, the Internet is the glue that holds our globalized world together and the divine numen that fills it with meaning. If you thought that ethnocentrism was bad, brace yourself for Internet-centrism.

Does this mean that we should banish the Internet—and technology—from our account of how the world works? Of course not. Material artifacts—and especially the products of their interplay with humans, ideas, and other artifacts—are rarely given the thoughtful attention that they deserve. But the mere presence of such technological artifacts in a given setting does not make that setting reducible to purely technological explanations. “Seeing” the Internet’s invisible hand everywhere is a sure way to lose one’s intellectual bearings. So is opting for unsophisticated Internet-centric explanations simply because they are lucrative, or likely to be celebrated by the technophilic crowd. The global reach of the Internet is no excuse to adopt its standpoint as a universal explanation: this globalism is crassly provincial, and lazy thinking.

Why worry about the growing dominance of such digitalism? The reason should be obvious. As Internet-driven explanations crowd out everything else, our entire vocabulary is being re-defined. Collaboration is re-interpreted through the prism of Wikipedia; communication, through the prism of social networking; democratic participation, through the prism of crowd-sourcing; cosmopolitanism, through the prism of reading the blogs of exotic `others'; political upheaval, through the prism of the so-called Twitter revolutions. Even the persecution of dissidents is now seen as an extension of online censorship (rather than the other way around). A recent headline on the blog of the Harvard-based Herdictproject—it tracks Internet censorship worldwide—announces that, in Mexico and Morocco, `Online Censorship Goes Offline.' Were activists and dissidents never harassed before Twitter and Facebook?"

---and, to be fair, Jarvis' response

---the story of Elizabeth Warren:

"The question is, Do we have a different vision of what we can do? This agency is out here in a sense to try to hold accountable a financial-services industry that ran wild, that brought our economy to the edge of collapse,” she said. “There’s been such a sense that there’s one set of rules for trillion-dollar financial institutions and a different set for all the rest of us. It’s so pervasive that it’s not even hidden.”

---50 best food-on-film moments

---lastly, The Economist keeps it cheerful with "Things could actually get a lot worse":

"We should keep the Depression foremost in our minds. When systematic policy error results in low demand, it's as likely that the error will be sustained or compounded as it is to be rectified. In such cases, every bottom is ephemeral, and there is no darkness that can't grow darker still."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

invisible tribunal links

---Godard's Weekend

---The Divide trailer and other contemplative apocalyptic films

---Ridley Scott's career condensed

---Matt Stone and Trey Parker visit an NYU writing class

---Art Spiegelman on the future of the book:

"What we’re losing culturally the fastest, aside from natural resources and oil and the idea of democracy and social justice, is the ability to concentrate. I find now that when I read a physical book, I look in the upper right-hand corner to find out what time it is with my book. The confusion is universal."

---an interactive Drive map

---comprehending real-time information

---Almodovar's formula of melodrama

---anatomy of a scene in Martha Marcy May Marlene

---Vertigo analyzed

---Slavoj Zizek speaks at Occupy Wall Street:

"So what are we doing here? Let me tell you a wonderful, old joke from Communist times. A guy was sent from East Germany to work in Siberia. He knew his mail would be read by censors, so he told his friends: `Let’s establish a code. If a letter you get from me is written in blue ink, it is true what I say. If it is written in red ink, it is false.' After a month, his friends get the first letter. Everything is in blue. It says, this letter: `Everything is wonderful here. Stores are full of good food. Movie theatres show good films from the west. Apartments are large and luxurious. The only thing you cannot buy is red ink.' This is how we live. We have all the freedoms we want. But what we are missing is red ink: the language to articulate our non-freedom. The way we are taught to speak about freedom— war on terror and so on—falsifies freedom. And this is what you are doing here. You are giving all of us red ink."

---Salt action previsualization

---Naomi Klein's interview concerning Occupy Wall Street

---Diablo Cody's Young Adult trailer

---Art of the Title on Delicatessen

---David Foster Wallace teaches:

"His principle of empathy governed all that he taught us, even when he taught with tough love. Make your comments maximally helpful. Never sacrifice clarity. Don’t make the reader work unnecessarily—parse unnecessary clauses, wade through unnecessary data. He wrote on the syllabus that the purpose of good writing wasn’t self-expression, `or whatever your teacher told you in high school,' but communication, meaningful communication between two human beings. He taught with the empathy he preached, about everything from our grammar to our values to our personal lives. In an avuncular aside, he told us once that with each decade our sex lives of the decade before would grow to seem strange and sad to us, `for what it’s worth.' He spent hours teaching us grammar and style and usage, sometimes after class, sometimes in class with half-sheet illustrative mini-lessons with titles like `Learning: The Adventure of a Lifetime!' He gave so much of himself, convinced that he could teach us writing’s minutiae and that our knowing the minutiae would help us to communicate meaningfully and that meaningful communication would help us to feel for and so to care for other human beings. So there he was, his generation’s literary genius, teaching undergrads how not to split infinitives."

---Australia as the petri dish of climate change

---Pauline Kael: A Life in the Dark

---Everything is a remix: The Matrix

---Kundera and the totalitarian nature of mass media:

"As late as the 1960s, the transgressions of powerful Western politicians were more likely to be hushed up than exposed. While we might not want to turn back the clock that far, if we lose all privacy we risk becoming the sort of people Kundera defines in Slowness as `Dancers,' politicians who spend their lives performing for an invisible audience – although Dancers would more likely describe themselves as people skilled at managing their own public persona. We become Dancers when we log onto social media and perform in front of the tribunal of our peers.

In Testaments Betrayed, Kundera notes that many people `change their mind in accordance with the invisible tribunal that is also changing its mind; their change is thus simply a bet on what the tribunal will proclaim to be the truth tomorrow. I remember my youth in Czechoslovakia. Having emerged from our initial enchantment with Communism, we felt each small step against official doctrine to be a courageous act. We protested the persecution of religious believers, stood up for banned modern art, argued against the stupidity of propaganda, criticized the country’s dependence on Russia, and so on. In doing so, we were taking some risk – not much, but still some – and that (little) danger gave us a pleasant moral satisfaction. One day a hideous thought came to me: what if our rebellions were dictated not by internal freedom, by courage, but by the desire to please the other tribunal that was already preparing, in the shadows, to sit in judgment?'"

---Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 40 years later

---Slab City: refugees of the recession

---Kay Corleone's fashion sense

---the true cost of commuting

---the race dynamics of recent trailers

---Lethem on Mailer

---"If you really want to help us, why don't you leave?"

---lastly, Seitz and Morgan consider Repulsion

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rest in peace, Steve Jobs

---"Think different."

---"Jobs's immersion in Zen and passion for design almost certainly exposed him to the concept of ma, a central pillar of traditional Japanese aesthetics. Like many idioms relating to the intimate aspects of how a culture sees the world, it's nearly impossible to accurately explain -- it's variously translated as "void," "space" or "interval" -- but it essentially describes how emptiness interacts with form, and how absence shapes substance. If someone were to ask you what makes a ring a meaningful object -- the circle of metal it consists of, or the emptiness that that metal encompasses? -- and you were to respond "both," you've gotten as close to ma as the clumsy instrument of English allows."

---"I've written before about how the study of Zen Buddhism shaped Jobs’s design sensibility and business philosophy. Jobs was a passionate advocate of what Buddhists call `the beginner’s mind' — an outlook free of the learned constraints that lead to preconceived solutions to problems. He preached and practiced the need for radical simplicity and rigorous focus, both of which are core Buddhist values. And he was a deep believer in the validity of Japanese traditional aesthetics, whose precepts are deeply intertwined with the ideas and practice of Zen.

That was the essence of Jobs’s unique genius — understanding that absence defines presence; that the only path to the great new things of the future was the merciless elimination of the good old things of the past.

There’s a famous koan, attributed to the Chinese master Linje, which goes: `If you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him.' The koan wasn’t an exhortation to murder, but a metaphorical admonishment not to be bound up in dogma, in conventions, in standards. You cannot pursue the Buddha-becoming if you’re slavishly attached to the Buddha-that-is. You cannot grow if you’re unwilling to let go."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

reactionary links

---"The collapse is coming . . . and Goldman rules the world."

---Nirvana live at The Paramount 1991

---Diane Keaton under a hat

---"the cloud never forgets a face"

---overcoming reactionary workflow

---Greenwald wonders about the media reaction to the protests:

"In sum, there is a sprawling apparatus of federal and local militarized police forces and private corporate security designed to send this message: if you participate in protests or other forms of dissent outside of harmless approved channels, you’re going to be harmed in numerous ways."

---"frictionless sharing is silent total surveillance" and "Facebook's Eerie Goal: Why Timeline Changes Everything":

"Facebook is already using face recognition technology, and its privacy policy is longer than the US Constitution. If I continue to use its newest sharing features, Facebook will eventually have access to my diet, my exercise habits, my love life, my family life, my media consumption and every place I’ve publicly been. Best of all: this wonderful information will finally be at the fingertips of major corporations."

---Take Shelter: a "perfect allegory for a panicky time"

---Jim Emerson's "Polanski's Chinatown: a dream analysis"

---Pumped Up Kicks/Dubstep"

---Neal Stephenson's "Innovation Starvation"

---"Teaching film should be just as important as teaching literature, languages, history, economics and science. Our children need to be powerful communicators with film"

---What Google knows:

"I know that Google knows, because I’ve looked it up, that on 30 April 2011 at 4.33 p.m. I was at Willesden Junction station, travelling west. It knows where I was, as it knows where I am now, because like many millions of others I have an Android-powered smartphone with Google’s location service turned on. If you use the full range of its products, Google knows the identity of everyone you communicate with by email, instant messaging and phone, with a master list – accessible only by you, and by Google – of the people you contact most. If you use its products, Google knows the content of your emails and voicemail messages (a feature of Google Voice is that it transcribes messages and emails them to you, storing the text on Google servers indefinitely). If you find Google products compelling – and their promise of access-anywhere, conflagration and laptop-theft-proof document creation makes them quite compelling – Google knows the content of every document you write or spreadsheet you fiddle or presentation you construct. If as many Google-enabled robotic devices get installed as Google hopes, Google may soon know the contents of your fridge, your heart rate when you’re exercising, the weather outside your front door, the pattern of electricity use in your home.

Google knows or has sought to know, and may increasingly seek to know, your credit card numbers, your purchasing history, your date of birth, your medical history, your reading habits, your taste in music, your interest or otherwise (thanks to your searching habits) in the First Intifada or the career of Audrey Hepburn or flights to Mexico or interest-free loans, or whatever you idly speculate about at 3.45 on a Wednesday afternoon. Here’s something: if you have an Android phone, Google can guess your home address, since that’s where your phone tends to be at night. I don’t mean that in theory some rogue Google employee could hack into your phone to find out where you sleep; I mean that Google, as a system, explicitly deduces where you live and openly logs it as ‘home address’ in its location service, to put beside the ‘work address’ where you spend the majority of your daytime hours."

---"The Netflix of Terrorism"

---revisiting Lynch's Inland Empire

---"Distant Relatives: Psycho and Contagion"

---Radivojevic's "Nobody Can Predict the Moment of Revolution"

---John B. Judis' thoughts on why "our economic nightmare is just beginning":

"TODAY’S RECESSION does not merely resemble the Great Depression; it is, to a real extent, a recurrence of it. It has the same unique causes and the same initial trajectory. Both downturns were triggered by a financial crisis coming on top of, and then deepening, a slowdown in industrial production and employment that had begun earlier and that was caused in part by rapid technological innovation. The 1920s saw the spread of electrification in industry; the 1990s saw the triumph of computerization in manufacturing and services. The recessions in 1926 and 2001 were both followed by `jobless recoveries.'

In each case, the financial crisis generated an overhang of consumer and business debt that—along with growing unemployment and underemployment, and the failure of real wages to rise—reduced effective demand to the point where the economy, without extensive government intervention, spun into a downward spiral of joblessness. The accumulation of debt also undermined the use of monetary policy to revive the economy. Even zero-percent interest rates could not induce private investment.

Finally, in contrast to the usual post-World War II recession, our current downturn, like the Great Depression, is global in character. Financial disturbances—aggravated by an unstable international monetary system—have spread globally. During the typical recession, a country suffering a downturn might hope to revive itself by cutting its spending. That might temporarily increase unemployment, but it would also depress wages and prices, simultaneously cutting the demand for imports and making a country’s exports more competitive against those of its rivals. But, when the recession is global, you get what John Maynard Keynes called the `paradox of thrift' writ large: As all nations cut their spending and attempt to devalue their currencies (which makes their exports cheaper), global demand shrinks still more, and the recession deepens."

---"Notes on opportunities blown and missed" by Evan Calder Williams

---the literary references of The Simpsons

---Mark LeVine's "Empowered Citizens in a Post-Revolution Age"

"watch this video; watch how Al Jazeera Egypt reporter Hayat El-Yamani refuses to allow the plain clothes security agents trash her office without forcing them to disclose themselves. Watch and listen to how she berates them; how she refuses to let them merely have their way. How her colleague refuses to remove the camera from their faces, how she paces around them, cornering them like a cat does its prey, while they stand pressed against the door to her office.

She challenges them, harangues them, even badgers them with finger jabs to their shoulders and back, forcing them to explain themselves, to admit to the destruction they are engaged in inside the next, temporarily sealed room. `Hey, I won't stand here and just watch you breaking my own door,' she tells them as she jabs their shoulder, with constantly repeating `law samaht', or `If you please', which - under normal circumstances would be a sign of politeness or respect - but here becomes a sign of utter disdain and a reversal of the balance of power that normally exists between citizen and security agent.

`Why are you hiding your faces guys ... It's like you're being arrested,' she teases them. `If you had the right to do this, you wouldn't be hiding your face,' she continues. `Let me in my office, I want to see what your guys are breaking and smashing in there... Where's the documents that says that you have the right to do this?' she demands.

Most important, she declares, `I won't let this pass. If your guys in there break anything, I won't let it go.'"

---"Even if you are logged out, Facebook still knows and can track every page you visit"

---lastly, Timberg's "The creative class is a lie" and Kleinhans's “Creative industries, neoliberal fantasies, and the cold, hard facts of global recession: some basic lessons":

"there’s another set of fantasies too that compete for the space in our heads, and I’d like to point that out as a marker of resistance. That’s the fantasy of collective action by the dispossessed, who, acting together for the survival and common good manage to turn the tables on the powerful, the corrupt: that’s the terrain of Toy Story 3, with the band of misfits and rejects and over-the-hill toys finally triumphing. Or Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, with the undocumented and their partners and supporters overthrowing the racists, the capitalists (both corporate and drug cartel types) and corrupt politicians who are trying to keep them down. We need those myths too, even if we also know that the slogans are not sufficient. Especially after `Obama: Change We Can Believe In' has worn very thin indeed. We need to look behind the screen, behind the visible if intangible form of our creative culture, and bring it back to understanding capitalism itself, and from there, how we might effectively challenge it and change it."