Variable

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

It has been so long since I’ve not had a movie to re­view that I kind of for­get what other things I write about on here. I don’t think I’m go­ing to weath­er­proof my apart­ment this year, be­cause I se­ri­ously think it doesn’t do a bit of good. All of the drafts come from where the walls don’t square to the wood floors. I’ve been go­ing to Civ con­sis­tently enough that they now know what I’m go­ing to get based on the weather out­side. Large Mexican Hot Chocolate and a toasted wheat bagel if it is cold. Something from the fridge if it is warm. Eventually I sup­pose I’ll just be able to walk in and say “peanut but­ter!” or “cream cheese!” since that will be the only vari­able.

Bust Rod Halloween

Sunday, 29 October 2006

DSC01407 I was Bust Rod from Forbidden Zone for Halloween this year. Click here to see the Flickr set of my cos­tume cre­ation process.

You can find more in­for­ma­tion on my Forbidden Zone ob­ses­sion here. While this mask looks more like an al­li­ga­tor than a frog, I was lim­ited by the amount of card­board at my dis­posal, and couldn’t make the mouth any wider. My even­tual goal is to make a nearly ex­act replica of the mask from the movie, but that will in­volve cheese­cloth, chick­en­wire, and more time than I cur­rently have at my dis­posal.

Some folks ac­tu­ally knew who I was this year, which is bet­ter than last year when no one re­al­ized that I was Teen Wolf. [Damn kids.] 


À nous la lib­erté

Friday, 27 October 2006

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #160: René Clair’s À nous la lib­erté.

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Ever since I first saw this film a few years ago its cheery theme song comes back as an ear­worm at least once a month. “À nous, à nous, la li-ber-té!” While it is no longer roll-on-the-floor hi­lar­i­ous, it is still a light-hearted and en­joy­able jaunt through an ide­al­ized, not-yet-cyn­i­cal 20th cen­tury in­dus­trial en­vi­ron­ment. I promise not to fill this re­view with hy­phens, al­though it might al­ready be too late. Even if Clair made the film to­day it still might be bereft of the cyn­i­cism, so po­tent is the joie de vivre of the main char­ac­ters. The plot is rel­a­tively sim­ple, two friends at­tempt to es­cape from the pen, but only one makes it, and be­comes a suc­cess­ful in­dus­tri­al­ist. Years later his yuro­divy friend ends up work­ing in the same fac­tory, even though he’d rather be nap­ping in a field of wild­flow­ers. They rekindle their friend­ship, by ac­ci­dent, but the cen­ter can­not hold as other crim­i­nals try to black­mail the es­caped con/​industrialist.

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He man­ages to stave off this doom long enough to be­queath his en­tire cor­po­ra­tion to the work­ers and es­capes with his friend in the en­su­ing windstorm/​riot. In a reprise of the theme song at the end, both friends are happy as wan­der­ing bums, free as the wind and with as few cares.

While the core of the plot re­quires lit­tle to think about [as the core of the film is com­edy] its ap­pendages are open to many read­ings. Throughout the film, com­par­isons are made be­tween prison life and fac­tory life, which you can see in the first two screen shots I’ve pro­vided. Initially all the ref­er­ences to free­dom are made by peo­ple who are, in some way, not free at all. The song is yearn­ing and mo­ti­va­tional at these points as op­posed to its func­tion as a hymn of re­joic­ing in the end. While the film has an un­miss­able so­cial­ist fla­vor to it, it is less a cri­tique of au­thor­ity than a doc­u­ment of man’s ten­dency to ob­sess about or­der, even unto the loss of free­dom.

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Even as an in­dus­tri­al­ist, Louis, is re­stricted by the ex­pec­ta­tions of his syco­phants, the need to con­form to the be­hav­ior that other wealthy peo­ple ex­pect, and his past. He has man­aged to drug him­self with his wealth and it takes the re­turn of Emilé to re­mind him that life is not about be­ing im­por­tant, but about be­ing happy and free. This recog­ni­tion likely pro­vides the in­spi­ra­tion he has to give the newly au­to­mated fac­tory over to the work­ers, who can now spend their days bowl­ing, play­ing cards, fish­ing or danc­ing in­stead of mak­ing phono­graphs. Despite its fo­cus on free­dom, the film isn’t re­ally ex­is­ten­tial­ist, since it equates free­dom with a lack of re­spon­si­bil­ity in­stead of free­dom as re­spon­si­bil­ity it­self.

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It is claimed and de­bated that this film was the inspiration/​plagiarized for Chaplin’s Modern Times, but I think that whole dis­cus­sion is miss­ing the point; that in the con­text of the age, there was a need for films as specif­i­cally sim­i­lar as these to be made. Socialism and the as­sem­bly line were rel­a­tively new and fresh ideas, ripe with promise and ex­pec­ta­tion. What René Clair cre­ates in À nous la lib­erté is an al­loy of the two, where au­toma­tion leads to utopia and free­dom for all. Despite the now-ob­vi­ous er­rors in his idea, À nous la liberté’s hope for the fu­ture and zest for free­dom re­main in­spir­ing even 75 years later.

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Criterion Essay by Michael Atkinson.
DVD Journal es­say by Mark Bourne.
• Senses of Cinema ar­ti­cle by John Flaus.
DVD Verdict es­say by Barrie Maxwell.
• YouTube clip [a bit sketchy at the be­gin­ning, but set­tles out].

The 39 Steps

Thursday, 26 October 2006

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #56: Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.

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I would like to pref­ace this re­view by say­ing that Marian Keane’s Criterion Essay linked at the end is go­ing to be much bet­ter than any­thing I will write here. The 39 Steps is my fa­vorite Hitchcock film, made when he was still in Great Britain. In many re­spects his later work in The Lady Vanishes is re­lated to this film. I have pro­vided more than my usual num­ber of screen­shots be­cause there were so many strik­ing ones in this film. Some of the best can­not be re­pro­duced in still pho­tos, be­cause the cam­era move­ment is the real star. I’m an un­abashed fan of Hitchcock’s ear­lier works, pos­si­bly be­cause of their qual­ity in spite of bud­get and the British Board of Film Censors.

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The plot of The 39 Steps is cen­tered around a Canadian in Great Britain who be­comes em­broiled in a spy ring and is wrongly ac­cused of mur­der. With only one clue and a tal­ent for on-the-spot story-telling, he flees to Scotland from the cronies of a man with a short­ened pinky fin­ger in or­der to track down a Professor who turns out to have a short­ened pinky fin­ger. You see, they are try­ing to trans­port a gov­ern­ment se­cret about a new plane out of the coun­try to an un­named for­eign power. Of course, you don’t find out about this un­til the last min­ute or two of the film, in typ­i­cal Hitchcockian sus­pense mode.

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Along the way, the Canadian Richard Hannay keeps bump­ing in to this blonde woman who keeps turn­ing him over to the police/​spies from which he keeps es­cap­ing. Even in the most se­ri­ous of sce­nes Hitchcock man­ages to place lit­tle bits of hu­mor such as this to lighten the in­ten­sity of the ac­tion. And it isn’t the same sort of hu­mor at every point, some is low-brow, some comes from awk­ward sit­u­a­tion com­edy and there is plenty of wry wit from the pro­tag­o­nist him­self.

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Most peo­ple think hor­ror when they think Hitchcock, but it is mys­tery and sus­pense that are the bread and but­ter of his films. The deft­ness with which these traits are meted out in The 39 Steps, cou­pled with Hitchcock’s abil­ity to add a twist right when we think the sus­pense is go­ing to be sus­pended make the film in­ter­est­ing at every mo­ment. The char­ac­ters we meet, though only briefly, have last­ing im­pacts through­out the film, and the most in­nocu­ous of items or ac­tions cre­ate a sim­i­lar rip­ple ef­fect. It takes a spe­cial sort of di­rec­tor to so eas­ily roughen the wa­ters and sub­se­quently still them and have a good time while do­ing it. Thankfully Hitchcock is that man.

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Criterion Essay by Marian Keane.
Detailed Film Site film re­view.
• Download the en­tire novel by John Buchan at Project Gutenberg.
Hitchcock Online
Dr. Macro has scans and WMV clips.

2006 Election Issue Voting Summary

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Here is the link to the bal­lot [PDF] I’ll be vot­ing on in the up­com­ing elec­tion. Here is how I’ll be vot­ing on the is­sues and why:

Issue 1: Referendum on Workers’ Compensation:

Although I might be miss­ing some nu­ances to this leg­is­la­tion, es­pe­cially in light of Bill Peirce’s stance against BWC, it ap­pears to me that Issue 1 is pro­vid­ing some sen­si­ble amend­ments to cur­rent Workers’ Compensation law. As of now, I’ll be vot­ing for Issue 1.

Issue 2: Minimum Wage Rate Increase:

I am vot­ing for Issue 2. Having felt the pinch of min­i­mum wage labor my­self, I know how dif­fi­cult it can be sur­vive on a min­i­mum wage job.

Issue 3: Allow in-state gambling/​casinos:

I am vot­ing against Issue 3. The rea­son­ing be­hind this is sim­ple. Everything I’ve seen about their cam­paign strat­egy is a three-card monte game, of­ten gam­bling isn’t even men­tioned in the ads, only an ap­peal to emo­tion, “Please think of the chil­dren!” Also, fol­low­ing much of the dis­cus­sion at BrewedFreshDaily on the is­sue, I am con­vinced that gam­bling as an eco­nomic ini­tia­tive is fun­da­men­tally flawed.

Issue 4: Smoking Issue #1:

This pro­posal would amend the Ohio Constitution to al­low in­door smok­ing in a va­ri­ety of pub­lic places and would coun­ter­act or cre­ate a loop­hole in any other law that would ban in­door smok­ing in pub­lic places. This bill is spon­sored by to­bacco com­pa­nies. Voting Yes in Issue 4 would mean you would want to vote No on Issue 5, which is in di­rect op­po­si­tion to this Issue. I’m vot­ing against Issue 4, be­cause al­though every­one talks about how it will be bad for busi­ness, I think peo­ple like beer more than cig­a­rettes, and peo­ple who cur­rently don’t go out to bars and other places be­cause of the smoke [like me] will be more likely to do so if smok­ing in en­closed pub­lic places is re­stricted. Also, I don’t think an amend­ment about smok­ing be­longs any­where near the con­sti­tu­tion.

Issue 5: Smoking Issue #2:

So I guess that means I’m vot­ing for Issue 5, which is just a law and not a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment. I grew up in a two-smoker house­hold and my asthma and the chunks of yel­low phlegm I used to cough up when I first started run­ning are tes­ta­ment to the ill ef­fects of sec­ond-hand smoke. I liken smok­ing in en­closed pub­lic places to any other sort of dis­tur­bance. Take it out­side. Voting Yes on 5 means you want to vote No on 4, oth­er­wise your votes will can­cel each other out.

Issue 18: Cigarette Tax to fund the Arts in Cleveland:

Issue 18 would im­pose a 30¢ per pack cig­a­rette tax on cig­a­rettes pur­chased in the Cuyahoga County. The money from this tax would go to fund arts and cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions through­out the county. At a Neighborhood Connections meet­ing I heard from a woman in fa­vor of the Issue on the cur­rent state of Arts and Cultural fund­ing in the county. Apparently all of the money to fund these in­sti­tu­tions is pri­vate, from the Cleveland Foundation, or the Gund Foundation mainly. Other cities typ­i­cally fund their arts and cul­ture through the hotel tax, but in Cleveland that rev­enue goes to the Conventions and Visitor’s Bureau and to pay bond oblig­a­tions on pub­lic build­ings. Also, their cam­paign slo­gan is “It’s NOT a prop­erty tax.” which is the stu­pid­est way to con­vince some­one to vote for some­thing as I’ve ever seen. I am vot­ing against Issue 18, be­cause while fund­ing Arts and Cultural in­sti­tu­tions and events is im­por­tant, the prob­lem in Cleveland is in­sti­tu­tional, some­thing a tax will only ap­pear to fix.

Issue 19: Levy Adjustment to fund Health and Human Services in Cleveland:

Issue 19 will reap­por­tion 1-thou­sandth of a cent from an ex­ist­ing levy for four years to fund health and hu­man ser­vices or­ga­ni­za­tions. As this is a tax-payer di­rected reap­por­tion­ment of fund­ing I will vote for Issue 19. The League of Women Voters of­fers the pros and cons [pdf] of this is­sue.

Issue 42: Should a lo­cal gas sta­tion be al­lowed to sell beer on Sundays:

There is a gas sta­tion down the street that wants to amend their liquor li­cense to sell beer on Sundays. That’s fine with me. I will vote for Issue 42.

Do The Right Thing

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #97: Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing.

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It might be a bit re­duc­tive to com­pare Spike Lee and Jane Campion [An Angel at My Table] in terms of mi­nor­ity film­mak­ing, but it is in­ter­est­ing to see how their films ex­ert them­selves in that sort of space. I think they can be called “mi­nor­ity films” be­cause the di­rec­tors’ en­gage­ment and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with their mi­nor­ity sta­tus in­forms and di­rects what takes place on the screen.

I think Spike Lee is ul­ti­mately more suc­cess­ful at this. Do The Right Thing is still ef­fec­tive and con­tem­po­rary be­cause noth­ing in the film is con­tained; the ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing the film, and the ac­tion it­self are just as messy as real life, while still pre­sented in Lee’s unique sub­jec­tiv­ity. Because of this, any per­son who watches Do The Right Thing has a point of ac­cess that is not alien­at­ing.

Violence as a way of achiev­ing racial jus­tice is both im­prac­ti­cal and im­moral. It is im­prac­ti­cal be­cause it is a de­scend­ing spi­ral end­ing in de­struc­tion for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves every­body blind. It is im­moral be­cause it seeks to hu­mil­i­ate the op­po­nent rather than win his un­der­stand­ing; it seeks to an­ni­hi­late rather than to con­vert. Violence is im­moral be­cause it thrives on ha­tred rather than love. It de­stroys a com­mu­nity and makes broth­er­hood im­pos­si­ble. It leaves so­ci­ety in mono­logue rather than di­a­logue. Violence ends by de­feat­ing it­self. It cre­ates bit­ter­ness in the sur­vivors and bru­tal­ity in the de­stroy­ers.

–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

They key point in the pre­vi­ous quote, as it seems to me, is: “it seeks to hu­mil­i­ate the op­po­nent rather than win his un­der­stand­ing.” By pro­vid­ing such a var­ied and non-judg­men­tal set­ting, Spike Lee en­ables King, Jr.‘s words a chance to take ef­fect. Whereas, in my ex­pe­ri­ence of Campion’s films, points of ac­cess for un­der­stand­ing are much more dif­fi­cult to dis­cern due to her fo­cus on a sin­gle protagonist’s sub­jec­tiv­ity. In the Cut is a per­fect ex­am­ple of this, but it is also present in Angel at My Table and to a lesser ex­tent in The Piano.

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Bamboozled [if only I could find my Film Theory pa­per on it] is an­other Spike Lee Joint where mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives mesh to­gether into a real-world mess of au­then­tic­ity and sub­jec­tiv­ity. It adds an­other facet to the mi­lieu of Do The Right Thing. Everyone in Do The Right Thing is au­then­tic, but in Bamboozled the char­ac­ters have to con­front the con­se­quences of soul-sell­ing and be­ing con­sid­ered a race trai­tor. I like Bamboozled more than Do The Right Thing, even if it is a less per­fect and more trou­bling film.

I al­ways seem to get to pro­duc­tion val­ues at the end. Do The Right Thing is a per­fect film in this re­gard. Colors and film stock make the spec­ta­tor feel the Bed-Stuy sum­mer heat, in­creas­ingly preva­lent dutch an­gles re­in­force the pre­car­i­ous fire watch at­mos­phere, and when the con­fronta­tion fi­nally comes it is still sur­pris­ing how hot the con­fla­gra­tion gets. The af­ter­math is just as sur­pris­ing. While Spike Lee is de­lib­er­ately not speci­fic with a Jerry Springer “Final Thought” the whole con­struc­tion of the film is such that it en­cour­ages any­one with two neu­rons to rub to­gether to think about what it means to do the right thing.

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Criterion Essay by Roger Ebert
• Screenplay
Spike Lee Interview
Salon ar­ti­cle on the ef­fects of Public Enemy’s Fight the Power. [Uncut and Uncensored YouTube mu­sic video]
• YouTube clip

Woodland Creatures

Monday, 23 October 2006

DSC01375Sam Brown at Exploding Dog of­fered to do an orig­i­nal draw­ing for every­one who sent in a SASE and ti­tle to him. I was a huge fan of ED back in its early days, but even­tu­ally stopped vis­it­ing every day for no real rea­son. I once made a huge jpg of my 16 fa­vorites and printed it out on the archy plot­ter at Bond Hall dur­ing my sopho­more year. I still have it on my wall here. Then this of­fer comes along…

The ti­tle I sent in was “Woodland Creatures.” The pa­per is slightly warped be­cause it was folded in my mail­box dur­ing the whole damp week­end. I’m pretty sure fram­ing will flat­ten it out nicely though.

Plus free sticker! [Already on my lap­top]. You can see the rest of the sub­mis­sions here.