Archive for February, 2004

Now, If He Were From Arkansas…

It’s probably no secret to most of my readers that I will be very happy if the voters send George Bush back to his Crawford, Texas, ranch this November. I don’t remember ever feeling such strong opposition to a presidential candidate (I was too young to really understand Ronald Reagan, but still find him less undesirable), and it appears that a number of people share my feelings of distaste for the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but perhaps I’m on the outside when it comes to why people dislike president Bush. According to an AP article, it’s pretty simple:

John McAdams, a political scientist at Marquette University, said resentment of Bush is particularly strong among liberals who already hold three things against him: “First, he’s a conservative. Second, he’s a Christian. And third, he’s a Texan. When you add all of those things up, that invokes pretty much every symbol of the cultural wars.”

“It’s particularly galling when somebody who mangles his syntax and doesn’t pronounce words extremely well and is from Texas beats you,” McAdams added.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’d say that most people who oppose Bush’s re-election don’t care that he’s a Christian (except where he has allowed it to interfere with the blurring of church and state), and most of us really don’t care that the man is from Texas (after all, I really like Jim Hightower, Molly Ivins, and Ann Richards). And quite honestly, his verbal gaffes really don’t bother me that much, even though I always appreciated Clinton’s eloquence. Maybe I’m outside of the mainstream on this one, but I always thought it was his policies that mattered, not his home state, his personality, or his religious practices. Really quickly, I object to this reductive analysis because it deeply misrepresents the opposition to Bush’s presidency, implying that it’s only a bunch of New York or Massachusetts liberals who oppose Bush (which is obviously far from true).

More later on Ralph Nader’s decision to “run for president” as an independent.

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Capturing the Friedmans

During interviews promoting his compelling documentary, Capturing the Friedmans (IMDB), Andrew Jarecki invariably reports that he initially planned to make a film about clowns who performed at birthday parties for wealthy children living in Manhattan. However, as he talked to David Friedman, the city’s most popular clown, small details about his haunted private life began to emerge. Gradually, David revealed that his family had been torn apart by a notorious child molestation scandal in the late 1980s in Great Neck, New York, on Long Island; his father, Arnold, and his brother, Jesse, had been convicted of dozens of child molestation charges, with David insisting on their innocence. Other footage, filmed privately during the 1988 trial, shows David angrily denouncing the charges against Arold and Jesse on a video camera in something close to a videotape confessional to “his future self.” Soon we see videotape and super-8 film footage from family collections, the father and his three sons hamming in front of the camera, playfully performing music and skits before an imagined audience.

This mixture of contemporary interviews (with several of the family members, law enforcement officials, and alleged victims) and the Friedman’s video library creates a compelling documentary that takes its subject and its audience seriously. While Jarecki has been careful to avoid explicitly commenting on the guilt or innocnece of Arnold and Jesse, he skillfully questions the methods that police detectives used to gather information and subtly reminds veiwers that no forensic evidence was offered to support the molestation charges. In other interviews with both family members and alledged victims, Jarecki demonstrates the ureliable nature of memory itself, specifically in the case of one witness whose description of the after-school computer classes when Jesse and Arnold allegedly committed their crimes is often laced with contradictions. As Michael Atkinson suggests, Jarecki simply allows investigators to talk until they’ve “buried themselves in righteous dung.” Jarecki also draws from the observations of Debbie Nathan, an investigative reporter, who reminds viewers that the Friedman case emerged in the late 1980s, just as hysteria about child abuse at day-care facilities had reached its peak. The use of family film footage adds a quality of cinema-verite to the film, especially the use of handheld camera during one sequence where parents of the alleged victims chase the Friedman family across the courthouse parking lot (which reminded me of a similar shot sequence in Barbara Kopple’s amazing documentary, Harlan County, USA).

At the same time, Jarecki’s film calls into question the reliability of David and other members of the Friedman family, as Roger Ebert points out. David’s protests about his father and brother are a little too strong, and we gradually learn more about Arnold’s pedophilia (it’s clear that he owned a large collection of child pornography, and he later confessed privately to molesting the son of a family friend), leaving us with some ambiguity about exactly what Arnold might have done. In this sense, the film follows the logic of trial films as described by Carol Clover, positioning the audience as a “jury” re-trying the case, but without offering a clear verdict for either Arnold or Jesse (although Jesse’s innocence is strongly implied).

But to say that the film is merely about the “elusiveness of the facts” seems entirely too reductive. Instead, the film should be understood, in part, as a commentary on the Freidman family’s desire to record and remember their experiences, even the bitter conflicts that sometimes erupted between family members. It also addresses the complicated dynamics of the Friedman family itself. I found myself inhabiting a range of reactions to all of the members of the Friedman family from sympathy to suspicion. The film haunted me long after I finished watching it, and the DVD offers ample supplemental material to address many of the questions that were left unanswered in the film itself.

I’d really appreciate knowing what other readers thought about this film. I’m still not entirely resolved about my feelings towards some of the characters or about the stance the film takes towards them.

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Orkut at Georgia Tech

Via the Georgia Tech community on Orkut: an article in Georgia Tech’s student newspaper, The Technique, on Friendster, Orkut, and other online networking communities.

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More Fading Film News

I have to leave for school in a minute, but I just wanted to link to this article on the decline of traditional film. More later.

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My Southern Roots Are Showing

Weird. I never realized how much of a southern dialect I have. I just took this online “Yankee or Dixie” quiz based on the Harvard Dialect Survey results and scored strongly “Dixie.” I should not be tremendously surprised, I suppose, because my parents have lived most of their lives in the south. I’d also imagine that my answers to some of the questions (caramel as 2 or 3 syllables? sneakers or tennis shoes?) might have been different if I was still living either in Illinois or Indiana. But, pretty much no matter where I go, sugary carbonated beverages will always be Cokes, and the plural form of you will always be y’all.

Note: Because this entry has been attracting so much blog spam, I’ve decided to close the comments on it. If you feel strongly compelled to leave a comment about this quiz, feel free to leave them on another entry.

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I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

One of the most underrated films of the 1980s is now available on DVD with a director’s commentary track. If you haven’t seen Patricia Rozema’s 1987 film, you should definitely check it out.

This is actually great news because the film has not been available in the US in some time. I used to teach the film at the University of Illinois and always found interesting things to discuss with my students.

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Spellbound

Or, “Orthography Dreams.” Spellbound (IMDB) is a thrilling documentary that follows eight middle-school age students as they prepare for the national spelling bee held yearly in Washington, DC (please note: while writing this entry, I’m feeling entirely too self-conscious about my spelling skills).

The film opens by interviewing eight candidates from diverse backgrounds, and like Jenny, I found myself identifying with several of the kids’ neuroses and habits. As the film’s suspense mounted, I also found myself choosing a “favorite” kid, while rooting against others. The film clearly positions you to root for an African-American girl from Washington, DC, but reactions to other kids seem to be based more on individual tastes. Like Jenny’s brothers (scroll down to her comments), I found the “spastic kid from Jersey” really annoying, but beyond that, I thought the kids were generally charming and quirky in the best possible ways.

I think that what I found most interesting was how the film actually created a “villain,” a kid who had finished second the year before and was competing again. Even though several of the kids whose stories we followed were repeat competitors, the fact that this kid came in near the end of the film led me to perceive him as the “bad guy,” threatening to spoil my happy ending. I also found the reaction shots of the parents (who were generally portrayed as supportive) to be interesting, especially given the ways in which the film plays on the viewer’s emotions.

I don’t want to spoil the suspense for people who haven’t yet seen the film. That’s certainly part of the fun. I did, however, appreciate that one competitor managed to advance to a later round after successfully spelling the word, “Palimpsest.”

Mild spoiler below:

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Remaking Global Cinema

Back in film theory mode (some Ring spoilers ahead): I’ve been thinking about the concept of the remake lately for reasons that are somewhat complicated (although they are more than loosely connected to some writing I’ve been doing on The Ring). As many readers likely know, Dreamworks’ 2002 version of The Ring is a remake of the Japanese horror film hit, Ringu, and as many critics have complained, Dreamworks bought the US distribution rights to the Japanese original in order to suppress its release in the States until after they had completed their version of the film.

A similar relationship exists between the Spanish film, Abre los Ojos, and Cameron Crowe’s stylish remake, Vanilla Sky, although Ojos was released before Crowe completed his version of the story. In both cases, the fact of remaking the film has been seen as a lack of originality, implying that Hollywood simply steals the ideas of international cinema for its own gain. I’m intrigued by this notion of originality and the “aura” (to use Benjamin’s overused, but valuable, term) of the precursor film, especially in light of The Ring’s explicit treatment of a secret videotape that presents itself as a window into a child’s unconscious mind.

While doing some lazy Google-style research, I did come across two academic essays that might frame some of the issues I want to raise: Steven Jay Schneider’s “World Horror Cinema” (PDF) and Leonardo Quaresima’s “Loving Texts Two at a Time,” (the link has suddenly disappeared).

Note: Another example would be Christopher Nolan’s recent remake of the Norwegian film, Insomnia.

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Can the Georgia Senate…

…be declared legally insane?

The proposed amendment to the state constitution forbidding gay marriage passed the state senate yesterday. The amendment, designed to fortify heterosexual marriage, passed only after several spoof amendments forbidding adultery and limiting Georgians to one marriage over the course of their lives were voted down. Supporters of the constitutional amendment were celebrating at a local strip club and could not be reached for comment.

George is also talking about this topic today, comparing the opposition to gay marriage to the opposition to the Civil Rights movement. Meanwhile, in California, things make a lot more sense.

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Experimental Game Lab at Tech

Note to self: Be sure to visit Georgia Tech’s new Experimental Game Lab on Friday, February 27, at some point between 1 and 6 PM (Via Grand Text Auto).

I’ve known about the new lab for some time (it’s housed in what used to be a computer lab for freshman composition classes), but haven’t had a chance to really investigate what is happeneing there. If you happen to be in the Atlanta area, be sure to swing by.

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Writers on the War

An interesting project in Saturday’s Guardian features short comments by writers ranging from Julian Barnes and Nadine Gordimer to Studs Terkel and Margaret Drabble about the war in Iraq. The collection is based on a similar 1937 project by W.H. Auden and Stephen Spender to compile comments by novelists and writers on the Spanish Civil War. Via Tena, filling in for Atrios.

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Zell Miller Uncovers Far Left Conspiracy

In a speech entitled “A Deficit of Decency,”* (speech also available on Miller’s website) Georgia Senator Zell Miller exposed a far-reaching left-wing conspiracy to deprive American citizens of decent moral beliefs and traditional family values. Miller accurately diagnosed the process by which the left wing has managed to eliminate Christian teachings from the United States, endangering the many thousands of churches that dot cities and towns across the country, noting that the United States faced a “famine” of Christian teachings after courts forced the removal of the Ten Commandments from state courthouses and destroyed countless heterosexual marraiges by allowing for people of the same gender to marry.

More damaging to the far-left cause: Senator Miller identified the left-wing attempts to take over the minds of innocent citizens during this year’s Super Bowl halftime show. Miller observed in his speech that

The culture of far left America was displayed in a startling way during the Super Bowl’s now infamous half-time show. A show brought to us courtesy of Value-Les Moonves and the pagan temple of Viacom-Babylon.

Yes, the same Viacom that has owned Blockbuster Video for over a decade. According to reports, Blockbuster is merely a conservative front designed to mask left-wing corruption. The same Viacom that owns CBS, who refused to air an advertisement by the liberal grassroots organization, MoveOn.org. CBS’s decision is now believed to be another move designed to obfuscate the left-wing conspiracy against traditional values.

After broadly describing the secret “crotch-grabbing culture,” Miller also exposed one of the chief leftist agents of the culture wars, Comrade Kid Rock, whose raunchy songs celebrating strip clubs actually demonstrate a strong message of feminist empowerment. However, Miller’s diligence exposed Rock’s danger to the United States:

But as bad as all this was, the thing that yanked my chain the hardest was seeing that ignoramus with his pointed head stuck up through a hole he had cut in the flag of the United States of America, screaming about having “a bottle of scotch and watching lots of crotch.” Think about that.

Such images require quick and decisive action, and Miller and some of his colleagues in Congress have acted, promoting a broad range of bills designed to protect marriage and to protect the right of the goverment to impose Christian doctrine by placing replicas of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms. It is hoped that by preventing gay marriage, female rock musicians will no longer be tempted to reveal their “mammary glands” on national television. FCC chairman Michael Powell took a break from deregulating the US media to support Miller’s contentions, commenting “I personally was offended by the entire production.” Powell quickly added that further deregulation of the media, allowing Viacom to own an even larger chunk of the media pie, seemed like punishment enough for airing such offensive material.

Miller concluded by addressing the much discussed deficit, but noted that this deficit, usually understood as a budget deficit that future taxpayers would be required to pay, has been misunderstood. It is in fact “a deficit of decency,” one that will require relentless censorship to balance. In fact, our children and grandchildren will have to watch thousands of hours of wholesome television shows in order to balance all of the indecent images to which we have been exposed.

Leaders of the vast left-wing conspiracy could not be reached for comment other than to say that Comrade Rock has been punished for so brazenly revealing the inner workings of the Party’s plans for promoting the Right to Party. Other members of the left began searching for further means of encouraging indecency and general mayhem, including a proposal to hire fans to shout profanity while attending major sporting events, thus subverting crowd microphones and giving the FCC a massive headache in pursuing the war on indecency.

* All Miller quotations taken from an actual speech delivered on the floor of Congress.

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My Aunt’s Twentieth Century

I just returned from near Athens, Georgia, where I attended my aunt’s 97th birthday party. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the concept that she has lived for 97 years for most of the day, but it’s such a difficult thing for me to imagine.

She’s incredibly healthy, and her memory is still fairly sound, particularly her ability to remember her friends and family. It’s also great to see that she has so many friends (there were around 50 people at the party) to celebrate with her.

I keep going back to thinking about the things she must have seen, the stories she had, many of which are now lost, even though her memory is relatively sharp, and I really wish now that I had listened to my father when he told me to write that stuff down.

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Luckily I’m a Night Person

Weird. I was working on a blog enry a few minutes ago when suddenly my dishwasher started gushing out water at the base. So, with quick cat-like reflexes, I was able to eventually figure out how to cut off the water in my apartment…

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Uncovered Review

Several months ago, I commented briefly on the MoveOn.org sponsored house parties for screening Robert Greenwald’s documentary, Uncovered. At the time, I was simply intrigued by how the film had been distributed. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to watch the film, I’ll throw in my two cents about it.

I’ll first point out that I find Greenwald’s film to be an impressive and important documentary, one that offers a powerful argument against the war in Iraq. Uncovered used editing very effectively in several key sequences, cutting between Bush’s famous State of the Union speech and CIA intelligence experts who take apart his major justifications for the war. The number of experts Greenwald assembles, including John Dean, Scott Ritter, and Joseph Wilson, is quite impressive, and I found their arguments to be very convincing. If more undecided voters were to see this documentary, I think that would be a very good thing.

That being said, I know well that my impression of the film is certainly inflected by any number of biases. As I watched the film, I tried to imagine how undecided voters might respond to it. Would they notice that the film failed to offer any interviews or comments by people who supported the war? Would those viewers object to a documentary that took such a clear argumentative approach? I’m not sure I have an answer to those questions. One minor quibble: the film used borrowed footage from C-Span broadcasts to build some of its arguments without displaying the date of the speech we were watching, which could occasionally be confusing, but that’s probably me being picky.

I’d also imagine that because many of the documentary’s claims (yellowcake, mobile weapons factories, terrorist connections) have been so thoroughly confirmed (annoying WaPost registration now required) by now that Uncovered might have a much different imapct on viewers than it did when it was first released. I’d be curious to hear from others who have seen this film. What were your reactions to it?

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