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.