Archive for July, 2003

Winged Migration

Went to see Jacques Perrin’s stunning new film, Winged Migration, last night at Garden Hills (S referred to it as “riveting”). Migration uses exquisite camera work to follow several species of birds during their spring and fall migrations.

The narration and subtitles add little to our knowledge about birds, but that doesn’t seem to be the purpose of Migration. The film is structured around these annual trips, opening and closing with a young boy watching birds play in a small pond, and an older woman feeds cranes that stop in her backyard every year, but the circular organization of the film isn’t the major point. Instead, the “star” of the film is the amazing camera work, with the birds’ flight captured by cameras mounted on hot-air balloons and ultra-light aircraft. Amazing tracking shots capture not only the extreme difficulty of the birds’ flight, but also the film technologies that record it. Several other birds were “trained” to make friends with the camera crew (check out Ebert’s review for some of these details), and we quickly identify with many of the birds through close-ups that show the birds eating, playing, and feeding their young on the ground. Oddly, these sequences, perhaps more than others, led me to anthropomorphize the birds, projecting my own human desires and perceptions onto them.

There are some more overtly “political” images in the film. We see images of birds caught in industrial sludge as they rest while flying over Eastern Eurpoe, but any political commentary about human intervention in the animal world is relatively muted. An image of duck hunters is disturbing because we know the difficulty of the ducks’ flights, the hundreds of miles they have covered in their journeys; the film has, by this point, so clearly established our identification with the birds that the gunfire, and the falling birds, come as a painful shock, disrupting the gracefully flowing camera. But we earn a moment of triumph near the end of the film as a blue parrot, captured to be sold as an exotic pet, manages to figure out the latch on its cage door and flies to freedom. All in all, I’m finding it difficult to explain how powerfully Winged Migration moved me, how much it captured my attention.

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Auto Focus

Just caught Paul Schrader’s Auto Foucs on DVD last night, and like many of Schrader’s other films and screenplays, Auto Focus left me feeling a little like I’d been beaten up in a fight because of what feels to me like a somewhat heavyhanded moral tone, possibly due to Schader’s strict Calvinist upbringing, as Stephanie Zacharek mentions (Salon article–subscription only). J. Hoberman’s review in the Village Voice affirms my Calvinist interpretation.

[Some possible spoilers ahead] In the film, Greg Kinnear plays Bob Crane, the star of TV’s Hogan’s Heroes, focusing on his “offscreen” participation in the sexual revolutions of the 1960s and 70s. Foucs emphasizes Crane’s friendship with early video technician to the stars, John Carpenter, and their habit of videotaping their sexual exploits. The story culminates in Crane’s unsolved murder in a Scottsdale, Arizona, hotel room, strongly implying that Carpenter may have been the murderer.

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Steal a Little…

Interesting controversy brewing around the discovery that Bob Dylan may have borrowed lines from a 1991 Japanese book, Confessions of a Yakuza, by Junichi Saga. The discovery was made by an American English teacher living in Japan, and looking at the lyrics listed at the end of The Guardian article, there are some strong similarities, but I think accusations of plagiarism are vastly overstated. I don’t see Dylan’s actions as simply “stealing” the words of another artist as the Globe and Mail editorial implies; Dylan’s incorporation of the references to Saga’s book (if that is really what is happening) is much more complicated than that. I certainly don’t see Dylan’s actions as “tarnishing” his career (Globe and Mail again).

Saga has graciously claimed in interviews that he has no plans to sue Dylan, and news of the connection has considerably increased sales of his book. In fact he claimed to be flattered by the attention of an artist of Dylan’s caliber, and I generally share the suggestion that credit in future copies of the album might be a reasonable solution.

This criticism of Dylan certainly belongs in the current discussion of intellectual property, and in general, it feels a bit too policing for my tastes in that it takes focus away from the wrong targets (the way that copyright law is constructed). Of course, there are other people who are much more prepared to talk about this issue than I am.

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Ramesses I

Had lunch with S who is working at the Michael C. Carlos Museum at Emory University this summer. Before lunch, S gave me an excellent tour of the museum’s special exhibit on Ramesses I, who is the grandfather of Ramesses II, famous for being the pharaoh during the time of Moses. The exhibit and the history of this particular mummy were both pretty interesting.

Ramasses I succeeded two other generals who had fulfilled the role of pharaoh after Tutankhamen’s early death. The mummy was only recently identified as Ramesses I after being purchased by the museum in 1999, and there is still wide debate as to the accuracy of these claims. The identification process itself is pretty trippy (click on the appropraite link of the Ramesses website), with the use of X-rays, DNA, the placement of the mummy’s arms, the mummification process, and other forms of testing.

The story of the mummy itself (and how it came to be lost) is fascinating, but I won’t go into too much detail for fear of getting facts wrong, but apparently many mummies were reburied in a well-hidden cave because of tomb robbers during a period of economic and political turmoil during the Egyptian dynasty around 1000 BCE. However, Ramesses’ mummy disappeared during the late nineteenth century, and it is implied that the Abd el-Rassul family who discovered the cache may have been selling off bits and pieces of the collection to dealers (including the mummy in question) who would, in turn, sell them to (usually Western) collectors, such as the Niagara Falls Museum and Daredevil Hall of Fame where this piece resided.

One of the artifacts that I found most interesting was a stereoscope image of the mummy that dated from the 19th century. I don’t know that I have a clear interpretation here, but the novelty of stereoscopes in the nineteenth century, the association between photography and death, and the mummy as the object of the image was pretty cool.

The Carlos Museum itself is well worth checking out if you’re in Atlanta. It has a nice collection of Egyptian and South American antiquities, all of which are very well-contextualized. Cool stuff.

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Blogathon Revisited

One of my former students is participating in Blogathon 2003 for a cause that he is deeply passionate about. My financial situation is a little rough right now, but I thought I’d give him (and his cause) a little free publicity. I can’t state the value of his goals nearly as eloquently as he can, so please take a look.

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The Animatrix

After Jason’s discussion of “bridging worlds,” I was inspired to check out The Animatrix, which is a collection of nine animated segments that provide us with more background into the world of the Matrix films (and provide another outlet for lining Warner Bros’ pockets). For the most part, I enjoyed The Animatrix and felt that it extended some of the “universe building” that Jason describes in his post. In general, I enjoyed most of the segments, even though they often resorted to generic Matrixian platitudes (some of which reminded me of TV shrink, Dr. Phil) about perception and reality. The animation was generally inventive, and each segment had its own “signature” animation style, which added considerably to the film.

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Secretary

While fighting my cold, I finally had the chance to see the recent cult fave, Secretary, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Spader. Gyllenhaal plays Lee, a young woman who has just been released from a mental hospital because she mutilates herself. She takes a job as a secretary, working for E. Edward Grey, a lawyer played by Spader and begins to date an old high school classmate (played by Jeremy Davies). Their relationship quickly takes a sadomasochistic turn, with Lee relishing in the attention given to her by her boss. I’m still sorting through my interpretation of the film, but a few things stand out.

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Forum on Independent Media

FYI Atlanta readers: A follow-up event to the FCC town hall meeting is scheduled for July 15 from 7-10 PM at the Auburn Avenue Research Library. The event is also a celebration of community radio station WRFG’s 30th anniversary. Full text of the announcement follows.

[By the way, the reason for the light (non)blogging the last few days: I've been fighting a cold (I finally won).]

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Matrix Reloaded

Much later than everyone else, I finally saw The Matrix Reloaded, and like Steven Shaviro, I thought the second film was somewhat more nuanced philosophically than the original. Shaviro offers a nice reading of the film, and I’d like to think through some of his ideas and hopefully add to the discussion.

To my mind, one of the second film’s major strengths is that it complicates Morpheus’s faith in the salvation narrative that provides the structure of the first film. In the second film, Morpheus is frequently doubted by his superiors in Zion who don’t share his vision or his faith (specifically with Commander Lock whose name may be a pun on the English empiricist philosopher), and more importantly, the narrative of the film itself bears out this critique quite nicely with the choice that Neo is required to make at the end of the film during his conversation with the Architect of the Matrix and during another conversation with a Counselor in Zion.

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Blogging and Research Revisited

Richard McManus offers a compelling argument for privileging “topics” rather than authorship as a key term in organizing the blogosphere. McManus is responding to an assertion by Clay Shirky that favors authorship as the key term for organizing blogs:

The weblog world has taken the 4 elements of organization from mailing lists and usenet — overall topic, time of post, post title, author — and rearranged them in order of importance as author, time, and title, dispensing with topics altogether.

One of McManus’s strongest arguments is that organizing blogs by authorship can be “elitist,” with the potential to exclude alternative voices. I think he’s certainly right, and, as the disussion earlier this week implies, we need more flexible ways of “mapping” the blogosphere. But I am also well aware of the fact that authorship is an important factor in my interpretation of any text (written, musical, filmic, bloggish), so I absolutely do not want to dispense with the category altogether, and I think that McManus’s emphasis on content (“I’d rather just read and write about topics that are of interest to me, thanks”) elides this fact. Of course my blogroll, which is organized by author/title, reproduces the logic of authorship. But because we’ve been discussing similar issues the last few days, I thought I’d bring up this point as well.

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Salsa Recipe(s)

I thought George’s “distributed recipe book” was a great idea, so here is my contribution, a salsa recipe given to me by some friends from my days in grad school at Purdue.

Red Salsa:

  • 7 Roma tomatos (chopped)
  • 3-4 jalapeno peppers (chopped, remove seeds)
  • 1/4 vidalia onion (chopped)
  • 2 tbsp. cilantro (chopped)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • pinch of salt, black pepper
  • (optional) juice of one lime

Put all of the ingredients in a blender and mix (I usually use the “blend” or “chop” settings) to ensure the flavors mix nicely. The salsa usually tastes better if you refrigerate it for a couple of hours before serving, but it’s ready to eat right away. You can also substitute tomatilloes for the roma tomatoes for a nice, mellow salsa. The amount of jalapenos is, of course, optional depending on your tolerance for spiciness, but I usually find that using four works best.

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Blogathon 2003

I’m probably not going to participate, because I don’t like asking friends for money, even if I believe it’s for a good cause (plus I just found out I can make some money that day), but I found the concept of a “Blogathon” too intriguing not to mention:

Remember when you were in school and you would bowl for charity? And for every pin you knocked down you got, say, ten cents? Or run for a dollar a mile? During the Blogathon, people update their websites every 30 minutes for 24 hours straight. For this, they collect sponsorships. Pledges can be a flat donation, or a certain amount for every hour the blogger manages to stay awake.

Many of the suggested charities (Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders) are doing important work, and I have to admit, the experiment of tracing the course of an entire day is enticing, especially given my interest in blogging and temporality. Last year’s Blogathon also appears to have inspired several creative approaches tailored to the concept of a blog marathon, including one blogger who posted in haiku and another who wrote a blog novel. Of course, when I participated in these activities as a teenager, including a Rockathon, which required me to sit in a rocking chair all night, they (or at least I) usually faded pretty quickly. Still, I’ll be interested to see what kinds of “gimmicks” this year’s Blogathon produces.

Update: Earlier today, I was stumbling over what made this sound so interesting, and I think it has something to do with what Dave called the “blog’s illusion of immediacy,” and a Blogathon seems to play off that illusion, or perhaps better, that desire.

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25th Hour

Last night, I watched Spike Lee’s latest film, 25th Hour, starring Edward Norton as a New York City drug dealer, Monty, who has just been convicted and faces seven years in prison. The film focuses on his last day of freedom, and I found it to be a very thoughtful, introspective film. I think what I found to be most powerful was the “elegiac tone” of the film (Ebert’s review is quite good), especially given the post-9/11 context. Monty spends his last day in the city making peace with his friends and family. He returns to his old school to reflect on some of his bad decisions. He makes several attempts to determine who informed on him to the police, but his movements lack focus and direction (Ebert even suggests the film is “plotless,” which I read as a compliment–more on that later).

The film briefly uses Ground Zero during one scene in which Monty’s longtime friends, Francis, a hotshot Wall Street investor, and Barry, a liberal school teacher, are talking in Francis’s apartment, which overlooks the scarred space where the World Trade Center towers once stood, the sense of loss permeating the scene. Constant reminders of September 11 (American flags draped from fire escapes, shrines to firefighters in local bars) also fill the mise en scene, and Monty’s story provides Lee with a way of understanding this sense of loss. Francis’s attempts to bury himself in his work are seen as hollow gestures; despite his success as an investor, he is unsatisfied. Similarly Barry’s faith in education and his rejection of his parents’ wealth fails to provide any sort of fulfillment as his students don’t respect him. Through these characters, Lee asks some powerful questions about the current situation in New York and the U.S.

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