Archive for February, 2004

Oscar Blogging

George is blogging the Oscars. I’m trying to throw in some snarky comments, too. Come join the fun.

Update: 83 comments later, the Oscars are over, and Lord of the Rings won in a landslide. They’ve been giving Oscars for 75 years, and no American woman has ever won best director. What a shame. As George observed (scroll way down), not a single person of color won an Oscar this year. The good news: Errol Morris won for The Fog of War and gave one of the best speeches of the night.

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ICFA Presentation Schedule

Okay, so I’ve been using blogging as a procrastination tool today. This is my last chance to blog on February 29 for four years. Might as well take advantage. Here’s my panel for the upcoming International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts. Looks like a promising, closely knit panel with all three papers focusing on The Ring. Should be fun.

70. (FM) Looking at The Ring
Chair: Kenneth Jurkiewicz
Central Michigan University

Video From the Void: Haunted Technologies in The Ring
Charles Tryon
The Georgia Institute of Technology

The Ring: Global Horror, Adaptation, Analysis
Petra Kuppers
Bryant College

Re-imaging The Ring: Nakata, Verbinski, and the Politics of Adaptation
Jay McRoy
University of Wisconsin-Parkside

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The Triplets of Belleville

After reading Tanya’s review, I finally went to see Sylvain Chomet’s animated feature, The Triplets of Belleville (IMDB), last night, and like Tanya, I completely enjoyed the film’s visual and musical artistry. The opening sequence, featured in theatrical previews, riffs on the early-’30s Fleischer Brothers Talkertoons, with parodies of Josephine Baker, Fred Astaire, and Django Reinhardt. The stars of the show are, of course, the eponymous triplets, who perform a scat-style song (one I’d like to see win the Oscar). The “scratches” on the film add to the nostalgic feel, leaving me feeling completely immersed in this world, but as the camera pans back, we see the scan lines of a television set and are quickly transplanted into a 1960s-era France, in the lonely, dilapidated house of Madame Souza and her orphaned grandson, Champion.

The film’s ability to convey the characters’ personalities and emotions with minimal dialogue is impressive, but to try to convey much information about the plot would, I believe, ruin the experiences for others. J. Hoberman’s Village Voice review generally captures the spirit of the film without giving away too much. In short, I completely enjoyed the film’s nostalgic tone (which I read as nostalgia not for the past itself as much as for a certain style of animation), its use of rich earth tones to convey this world, and the visual shorthand used to comment on characters and situations, including the waiter with no backbone (he literally bends over backwards), the square-shouldered mob guys who always walk in pairs, and Champion’s skinny-legged, chubby dog, Bruno. The film is an absolute treat. See it on the big screen if you can.

Note: Also check out Elbert Ventura’s Pop Matters review.

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Badda Bing

Cool New York Times interview with David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, one of my favorite TV shows. Chase’s comments about how he films the therapy sessions were especially interesting:

There’s one rule on the show: the camera in the therapy office does not move — forward, backward or sideways. I’ve been in a lot of therapy, and I never saw a camera move in to my face. I didn’t think we should say, “O.K., this is the important part. It’s all about his father, and the time he didn’t come home on Christmas Eve.” I wanted everything to be just flat. I wanted the audience to have to figure out what was important, to actually do the same work that Dr. Melfi was doing. I wanted to present therapy scenes as they are. Because a lot of therapy — let’s face it — is [expletive].

The show’s formal experimentation, its willingness not to reassure or comfort its audience, has always impressed me. I’d noticed that the therapy scenes are often filmed “flat,” or that they rarely evinced any real progress, but I don’t think I’d ever noticed the complete lack of camera movement in these scenes.

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Shoot Out at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Via Metafilter: The Flash game Bush Shoot Out, starring President Bush and Condoleeza Rice shooting out terrorists in the Oval Office. Strange but funny stuff.

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“History’s Like the Weather”

In an intriguing Salon interview, documentary filmmaker, Errol Morris, comments on his recent film, The Fog of War, in which he interviews former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara (subscription or free day pass required). The film has received a wide audience, in part because of the temptation to draw historical parallels between the Vietnam War and the war in Iraq. Morris, to his credit, is somewhat careful to avoid drawing false analogies between the two events, while recognizing some relevant comparisons:

I don’t believe that history exactly repeats itself. That’s not the argument. History’s like the weather — it never exactly repeats itself. And there’s a danger in making inappropriate and false analogies, but it’s really hard to look at this story without seeing parallels, common themes. I think about why I was attracted to doing this movie with McNamara in the first place. One of the reasons most certainly is that his stories, whether he knows it clearly or not, his stories are about error, confusion, mistakes, self-deception, wishful thinking, false ideology. It’s a cornucopia of bad stuff, of human failings. And what’s so interesting is that in some form or another, we see them in play today.

I’ve been an Errol Morris fan ever since I saw The Thin Blue Line for the first time. Here’s hoping that he earns a well-desrved Oscar (it would be his first) tomorrow night.

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Bollywood in the Times

Continuing my recent fascination with Bollywood, India’s prolific film industry, here’s a quick link to a New York Times op-ed piece on Bollywood’s awards season, which roughly coincides with (and apparently exceeds) Hollywood’s.

The editorial emphasizes Bollywood’s massive audeince, noting that many Bollywood films are well received in countries such as Indonesia and Egypt that tend to resist American culture. Also intriguing was the fact that Indian aid workers have been greeted in Iraq and Afghanistan with “snatches of half-remembered Hindi songs and names of Bollywood stars from the 1970’s.”

The editorial also mentions Kal Ho Naa Ho, a film I reviewed a few weeks ago, noting the Bollywood industry’s attempts to capture a wider audience, including “members of the educated urban elite who had looked down on Bollywood films,” as well as Indians living abroad in the US and UK.

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Gay Ban Defeated in Georgia House

The Georgia House of Representatives narrowly voted down an amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage, but because twelve voters did not participate in the vote, this story is not over yet:

The Senate had previously approved the measure, so Thursday’s vote could have meant final legislative approval and sent the ban on to voters to decide in the November election.

Seven of the 180 members of the House were present but did not vote, and five others had excused absences. Those 12 lawmakers can be expected to be targets of intense lobbying over the next few days.

Immediately after the vote was counted, Republican members moved for Senate Resolution 595 to be reconsidered on Monday, when the Christian Coalition of Georgia and the gay rights group Georgia Equality had already planned to bring hundreds of their supporters to the Capitol.

If you’re interested in how your Georgia representative voted, go here. This should continue to be one of the more fascinating legislative sessions in Georgia in a long time.

Edited for multiple typos, forgotten title. Remind me to never write a blog entry unless I’m sufficiently caffienated.

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FLM Interviews

Before I forget: Matt of Rashomon links to some articles written by prominent directors in the winter 2004 issue of FLM, a magazine by Landmark Theaters, the outstanding art-house theater chain. Some highlights:

Arcand’s comments about why he doesn’t like Clint Eastwood are quite entertaining, and Jenkins’ explanation that she never intended to become a “lesbian, serial killer filmmaker” is pretty funny, too. The real highlight, however, was Errol Morris’s self-interview. Good stuff.

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The Stone Reader

After reading George’s entry on Mark Moskowitz’s fascinating literary quest documentary, The Stone Reader, I’ve been waiting for some time to actually see the film for myself. The doucmentary focuses on Moskowitz’s appreciation for Dow Mossman’s 1972 novel, The Stones of Summer, and his desire to track down Mossman who never published another novel.

The film opens, interestingly, with a scene in which Moskowitz self-consciously calls attention to the contrived nature of documentary truth. We see him “selling himself” to the director or photography, while Moskowitz’s own son holds the boom mic. Later, we see Moskowitz, who also directs and produces campaign commercials, working at his editing machine, putting the film together. Throughout the film, he carefully crafts an image of himself as an avid consumer of books, with bookshelves prominently displayed in nearly every interior shot and boxes arriving frequently at his house.

The quest narrative provides an interesting framework for telling the story of literary admiration, even if it seemed a little artificial to me (the Salon critic had the same impression I did, calling it a “shaggy dog” story). In a sense, it allows Moskowitz to indulge his appreciation for the novel. It also allows him to implicitly criticize the ways in which the publishing industry can devour the labor of even the most talented and promising writers (such as Mossman, whose original publisher, Bobbs Merrill, stopped publishing fiction).

More than anything, the film seems to convey how deeply authors such as Mossman and his mentor at Iowa, William Cotter Murray, needed to have their labor affirmed by a reader. In this regard, Mossman’s reaction to Moskowitz’s quest is fascinating: “You’re more than the ideal reader. You’re in another dimension.” The build-up to meeting Mossman was nicely developed, and I found these sequences to be utterly fascinating, in part because I do find that image of short-lived fame to be such an intriguing concept.

At the same time, the film subtly emphasizes what it describes as a declining literary culture. We hear a Norman Mailer interview on Moskowitz’s radio, in which Mailer suggests thatthe novel will soon disappear. We see greybeards such as literary critic Leslie Fieldler, former Iowa creative writing professor Murray, and John Seelye, the NY Times critic whose review prompted Moskowitz to buy the book, all lamenting what the Salon writer, Laura Miller, decribes as their “tenuous hold on a culture that is ebbing away.”

I did notice, like George, that the film had a somewhat masculinist tone, with few, if any, women having prominent roles (the only woman he interviews is his mom), a fact the film seems to gloss. In fact, I wondered if Moskowitz’s decision to emphasize his wife’s request not to appear in the film might have been an attempt to acknowledge that criticism to some extent. I also found the decision not to clearly identify the subject matter of the book (or Moskowitz’s reasons for enjoying it so much) to be a compelling omission. You get veiled references to the beauty of the language, to the Vietnam War, but very little in the way of specifics, and so I found the film to be less about the novel itself, and more about Moskowitz’s nostalgia for a literate culture that he fears is fading away (Harry Potter notwithstanding).

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Life’s But a Walking Shadow…

After reading about scribblingwoman’s frustrations at the “Which Book Are You?” quiz, I decided to take it one last time. I’d been scoring out as Vladimir Nabakov’s Lolita, a great book, but a little unsettling as a self-representation. On further review, I found out the book that best “represents” me is…

Read the rest of this entry »

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In Other News…

Here are a few passing thoughts that never quite achieved blog entry status:

I’m turning into a political junkie. I really can’t get enough now. The combination of the presidential primaries, early polls, and the immediacy and volume of news and commentary in the blogosphere is turning into a serious addiction. But, anyway, the turnout for the Democratic primary in Utah probably isn’t good news for Bush, as Utah voter Blake Sarlow pointed out (Yahoo link may not work):

Officials printed 5,000 extra ballots in Salt Lake City to accommodate the demand. “Three blocks from Temple Square and there’s a giant line of Democrats,” said Blake Sarlow, waiting to vote. “It’s the craziest thing.”

I watched Catherine Hardwicke’s Thirteen (IMDB) last night. I was rather impressed by the film’s clear-eyed treatment of teen partying and sexuality, but found the formal technique of gradually washing out the film’s colors until it was virtually monochromatic to be not only distracting but also heavy-handed. Quite honestly, at first I thought something was wrong with my television. Still, the screenplay, co-written by the film’s supporting actress, Nikki Reed, was rather sharp, and performances by Evan Rachel Wood and Holly Hunter were very good. Looks like Steve Shaviro and I disagree about the formal elements, although I’d agree with him that the quick camera movements added to the film. I’d also agree that the film seems too moralistic for my tastes. One other question about the film: Doesn’t it seem strange that the film sets us up to condemn teen sex and that the girls generally have sex with black men? Is the taboo against representing interracial sex in Hollywood being used here as a way to communicate the dangers of having sex as a teenager?

I’ve been reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed for a potential paper on teaching globalization via representations of work, and it’s an intriguing book. Her descriptions of working for Wal-Mart certainly remind me of my experiences working for Home Depot when I was a graduate student at Georgia State. I know the book has been criticized because Ehrenreich is essentially a “tourist,” and to a certain extent, I was, too. I knew that eventually I’d leave the Depot for a PhD program, which allowed me to protect myself emotionally from that life, but the book absolutely opens up some questions about the difficulties of getting by on near-minimum-wage pay. In a sense, I think the work that Ehrenreich discusses is actually beyond description, that low-wage service work cannot really be represented adequately. This goes beyond the simple distinction between an object and its referent to me; it’s something more visceral, physical, emotional, mental, psychological. Even with my distancing techniques, when I stepped into a Home Depot, I became a different person. When I heard an interview conducted at a Home Depot while watching TV at home, I immediately felt myself falling into a bad mood, just from hearing the atmospheric sounds on my TV.

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Reactions to the Federal Marriage Amendment

I don’t read Andrew Sullivan’s blog very often, but ever since President Bush announced publicly that he will support and pursue an Amendment to the Constitution protecting the “sanctity of marriage,” Sullivan has been posting his own deeply moving reactions to Bush’s speech as well as a number of emails he has received from a wide variety of people criticizing the announcement. The overall effect is pretty powerful–people from a variety of political positions sharing their reactions, their feelings of betrayal or loss or shock that our leader could write discrimination into the Constitution through the Federal Marriage Amendment. It’s a truly effective use of blogging, using the medium’s personal immediacy to express opposition to Bush’s actions and to find comfort in the reactions of others.

Once you’ve read the reactions of Sullivan and his readers, go here and voice your opposition to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Also, a small request: consider mentioning this petition in your blog. I’m not sure how seriously people take these petitions, but I do think it’s important that people voice their opposition to this amendment clearly.

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Fellow ‘Herder Tanya referred me to this Wired article on “Destino,” an animated collaboration between the rather unliekly pair, Walt Disney and Salvador Dalí, from 1946. The short film “Destino” has been playing in theaters before the animated feature, The Triplets of Belleville. Read Tanya’s entry in palms for the full scoop, but now I really want to see both films.

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Nader Noise

Pretty much everybody knows by now that Ralph Nader has announced his decision to run as an Independent in the 2004 presidential election, and bloggers everywhere have been weighing in with their opinions. I’d planned to write an entry yesterday, but was not feeling very well, but now I’m glad to have had some more time to think about things.

I’ll start by saying that I happily voted for Nader in the 2000 election, that I was energized by his speeches, which I had the good luck of hearing frequently on a community radio station in Champaign, Illinois. However, even in a clearly designated “blue state,” I weighed that vote very carefully, knowing that Bush’s policies were not as close to Gore’s as they appeared (I’ve spent five minutes trying to work in an “objects are closer than they appear” rear-view mirror joke, but it’s not working), although I couldn’t have imagined John Ashcroft having such a major political role.

Like Harry at Crooked Timber, I think it’s also important to acknowledge that it would have been impossible to predict September 11, or the political fallout from that event. It’s also important to note that Gore ran a mediocre campaign, highlighted by his uninspiring decision to choose Joe Lieberman as his runningmate (Michael Bérubé has some useful comments on the 2000 election here). The possibility of securing federal funding for the Green Party was far too enticing, and I felt that the 2000 election offered a nice opportunity to build broader support for a third party (even though the Greens aren’t quite representative of my politics). In a sense, my vote was an act of resistance against the Clinton-style centrism that had come to dominate federal elections.

I do respect Nader’s work as a consumer advocate and as someone who has fought to protect workers from abuses by American corporations, but Nader’s campaign in 2004 risks tarnishing that legacy for me. As George points out, Nader won’t win in November, and the primary benefit of his 2000 campaign was, in my opinion, federal funding. Voting for a single candidate, as an independent, will not change the political landscape in any considerable way.

As an aside, I’m not sure I buy the argument that Nader will steal votes only from the Democratic candidate (especially if that candidate is Edwards). Many Republicans might see voting for Nader as a safe “protest vote” against Bush without having to vote for the Democratic candidate. I’ll also agree with the assertion that Nader may be in a better position to attack Republican policies than a Democratic candidate might, but given how he ran his 2000 campaign, I’m not sure that I’m completely comfortable that he’ll do that.

I’m unwilling to demand that Nader not run. As Chun suggests, that’s not very democratic. But in an important and tightly contested election, I will strongly discourage people from voting for Nader. As Howard Dean suggests, this election is about coalition building, and the only way to see that coalition win is to gain more votes in the electoral college than the Republican Party.

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