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.