Archive for March, 2004

Evening Madness

I’ve been enjoying March Madness all day (one of the benefits of being a professor is definitely working from home). So far my bracket is generally holding up (no bracket busters).

The latest news: I knew I should have trusted my instincts with Michigan State. The Big Ten has been mediocre all year, and I saw this game as a potential upset. I chickened out at the last second, though. Bummer. At least I didn’t see them winning a second game.

Everything else has been holding pretty much true. All three games right now are way too close. Go Dayton. Go Arizona. Go Tar Heels. I’ll be really ticked off if the Tar Heels lose. That was another game where I came thisclose to calling an upset by Air Force (basically playing at home, they run a tricky offense).

And I’m still managing to get work done on my conference paper.

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More Madness

Maryland up by one, just a few minutes to go in the game. My bracket could be completely busted. Now I’m worried.

On the other hand, I did call Manhattan over Florida.

Update: I’m glad I had a last-minute change-of-heart on Syracuse. Derek’s still winning, but things look pretty close, so far.

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March Madness Early Returns/Blog Ennui

Things are heating up in the NCAA Tournament, and here are my early observations about my picks in the “Bloggers pool”: so far I’m glad I picked Manhattan over Florida. Maryland should hold on against UTEP (they’d better, I have them going a long way).

And I’m regretting my last-minute change of heart on the Texas Tech-Charlotte game. I’d originally picked TTU to win precisely because their coach, Bobby Kinght, is one of my least favorite people in college sports. But then I went and read too many one too many tournament previews and changed my pick against my instincts. Doh!

Still feeling a little blog-ennui (no perma-link, see the 3-18-04 entry titled “Busy”). I’m still trying to figure out why. It may be something like the “dry spell” described by Liz, but I think it has more to do with how I’ve been using the blog lately. I’ve focused less on using the blog as a research journal, which may explain why I haven’t been as satisfied with it lately. I’ve also been doing a lot of writing outside the blog, which means a lot of quick link-and-comment entries rather than developed ideas. Perhaps this means I should change my expectations of what a blog should do.

More later, but I need to get back to my conference paper.

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Do Not Adjust Your Web Browser

Things are going to be pretty quiet at the chutry experiment for the next few days. Conference papers and journal articles beckon. Then, of course, the conference itself in sunny Fort Lauderdale (no computer access, so probably no updates from the conference).

Also, like George, I’ve been having my own version of a “blogging crisis.” I’m not sure I can be much more specific, just need to think about why I’m blogging, stuff like that.

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Slacker Map

Via Jenny at Stupid Undergrounds: A link to a map of locations from Richard Linklater’s Slacker. Really cool, interesting article on Slacker, one of the more important films in the indie film movement of the early 1990s. While I’ve never been to Austin, I’ve always appreciated Linklater’s representation of a specific cultural moment in Slacker, one that appears to be virtually lost now. And seeing this map is certainly making me feel nostalgic for his films. Except The Newton Boys. And I just can’t bring myself to rent School of Rock. Not sure why but I can only take Jack Black in very small doses.

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March Madness Blogger Style

It’s time for March Madness. The NCAA gets a lot of things wrong (all the recruiting scandals, for one), but the national championship tournament is one thing they get very right. Exciting games, thrilling upsets. It can be very addictive. Of course the office pools make things a little more excting. Dmueller at Earth Wide Moth has set up this year’s “blogging” equivalent. There’s no cash at stake, just glory. Check out EWM for the details.

By the way, since the pool doesn’t include the women’s tournament, I’ll send good vibes to my favorite women’s team, the Purdue Boilermakers. Boiler up!

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Pieces of April

Pieces of April (IMDB) is an entertaining Thanksgiving family comedy, a film I really enjoyed watching. Patricia Clarkson’s performance as Joy, a fortysomething mother dying of cancer, is wonderful, playing the role with just the right degree of bitterness, and Katie Holmes is impressive as her frenetic (and estranged) daughter, April.

The plot is relatively simple: it may be Joy’s last Thanksgiving, and Joy’s husband (played by Oliver Platt) seeks to help reconnect April and Joy by allowing April (who lives in a tiny NYC apartment) to cook the dinner, and the film builds tension effectively as the family approaches NYC while April struggles to make the meal, creating some nice physical comedy. The film’s use of photography (including photographs that become freeze-frames, or freeze-frames that are revealed to be photos) was very effectively done–too tired to discuss it in much detail.

One warning: Do not watch this film while you are hungry.

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TransATLantic

Quick advertisement for TransATLantic, an exhibition of Atlanta artists working in abstraction. The exhibition takes place at Gallery 24, a Berlin gallery for “autodidactic and undiscovered artists.” If you’re in Berlin and happen to read my blog, check out the exhibition.

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My Architect: A Son’s Journey

Nathaniel Kahn’s Oscar-nominated documentary, My Architect (IMDB), focuses on Nathaniel’s attempts to understand the legacy of his father, Louis Kahn. Louis is considered to be one of the great architects of the twentieth century, but he also had an unusual private life in that he fathered children with three different women, a fact that many of his professional contacts did not know.

Throughout the film, Nathaniel, who was 11 years old when his father died in 1974, attempts to reconcile the many lives that his father led through interviews with his father’s colleagues, other prominent architects, and several family members, all of whom remember Louis in vastly different ways. Some of the people Nathaniel interviews (including a Philadelphia city planner, Ed Bacon) remember him as stubborn, completely impractical and ill-equipped to deal with the pragmatic concerns of city life. Others, including I.M. Pei and Frank Gehry, remember him as a genius, although Pei gleefully acknowldeges Louis’s stubbornness.

Other images of Louis capture a more spiritual side, including interviews with a former mayor of Jerusalem, with whom Louis had planned to build a synagogue. A recorded lecture captures Louis emphasizing the need to connect with the natural world when designing buildings. I was most fascinated by Louis’s experiences in Rome, when he developed his vision as an architect (check out especially the breathtaking Bangladesh capital building), an intriguing mixture of modern and classical images, synthesizing the pure modernist forms with the ruins of classical architecture.

The build-up to the film’s climax, Nathaniel’s journey to Bangladesh, is actually quite effectively done. During one earlier sequence, Nathaniel shows some of Kahn’s buildings while Beethoven’s Ninth plays in the background. You begin to sense Louis’s gifts, his sense of vision, and Nathaniel cuts to another architect who says “Let’s not glorify the man.” This sense of self-awareness is important. Nathaniel celebrates his father’s work, but also manages to remain critical of him, to recognize the ways in which he failed to respect the women in his life. Architecture still comes across as primarily a boy’s club, but I think the film is critical of that.

As Nathaniel approaches the Bangladeshi capital by boat, we begin to see the building as an amazing achievement, especially given the country’s poverty in the years immediately after their war of liberation against Pakistan. Later, Nathaniel interviews Shamsul Wares, and when Nathaniel acknowledges that he’ll only be able to devote ten minutes of the film to this building, Wares shakes his head and says, “That’s not enough.” And, at that point, I felt he was absolutely right. I wanted to spend more time in that building, experiencing that space. As an aside: I’m not sure that the film acknowledges in enough detail the ongoing poverty in Bangladesh, but of course that’s not the point of the film.

Like many recent documentaries, My Architect addresses the knowability of the past, the extent to which we can know someone through images and interviews. The film manages to foreground this focus without pushing it. The film opens witha shot of microfiche copies of newspapers reporting Louis’s death (in a train station). Later in the film, we get several shots of Nathaniel watching archived footage on videotape, including one shot in which we can see Nathaniel’s face reflected in a screen. I think that may be the moment when the film completely won me over, drawing me in to Nathaniel’s search.

Roger Ebert fleshes out some of the details about Louis’s family life that I failed to mention in my review. Many of them (including the fact that Kahn’s body went unidentified for two days after his death) add to his sense of mystery. Interesting to see how Ebert focused on such different details from the film (the Pop Matters review is also quite good).

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Media Deregulation in the Rhythm Nation

Just a quick link and comment on the current Congressional effort to craft tougher indecency standards in response to Janet Jackson’s halftime performance. I don’t want to get into whether or not JJ’s actions were “appropriate,” but it seems clear that the folks in Congress are overreacting to this one.

What I find interesting is the way they’ve begun to blame so-called “Big Media” for the declining standards. I strongly support stronger rules against media consolidation (as my FCC comments last summer suggest), but I have to admit, I find the logic here a little strange. I recognize that local control will allow stations to refuse to broadcast “offensive” television shows, but it might also encourage local broadcasters to take more chances in an effort to boost ratings. Still, if Trent Lott wants to prevent further deregulation, I won’t stand in his way.

Washington Post articles here, here, and here.

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Pagels on The Passion

I haven’t seen The Passion of the Christ, and I probably will not see it (for a variety of reasons that I’d rather not explain right now). But a friend alerted me to this New Yorker article on the film by David Remnick, who interviews theologian Elaine Pagels, who explains why she reads the film as anti-Semitic. I’ve read several of Pagels’ books, and her arguments about the early history of the church were very important for me. The article is well worth a read.

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The Middle of March Sucks. You Should be Worried. Bad Things Might Happen to You.

Georgia educators are at it again.

Just came across this Atlanta Journal-Constitution article commenting on new study guides for teaching Shakespeare. The study guides are designed to introduce Shakespeare to students in a less threatening, more accessible way. Difficult words and phrases are replaced with more contemporary language.

I have mixed feelings here. I understand that reading Shakespeare is difficult, especially for high school students. Despite my declining memory, I still remember struggling through the plays. And, yes, some of the students are recognizing that Shakespeare’s plays are pretty exciting, which is cool (as one kid put it, “It is a cool story — what with people making plans to kill one another”). I also really enjoy many of the recent film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays (but, of course, my enjoyment derives from the relationship with the original, not simply because it’s a cool narrative).

But I’m a little troubled by the fact that schools are basically giving up on requiring students to work through the Shakespearean language. Like the UGA professor, I want to be careful to avoid calling it a “dumbing down” process, but I think we can make Shakespeare exciting without resorting to modernizing the language, and I’d agree with her that the new word choices fail to approximate the original. I don’t want this to sound like I think the students are at fault (I don’t think they are), and I don’t think we’ve reached the point where Middle Elizabethan English is completely inaccessible to students (it hasn’t been that long since I was in high school).

Strange metaphor: a GSU professor comments that “Shakespeare without language is like a movie without sound.” I imagine Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton would see things a little differently. Also, check out the poll on the bottom-left corner of the page (kind of sad when you have to explain that joke).

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One

One year ago today I started blogging on Blogger (scroll down for the evidence), primarily inspired by George and Patrick, both of whom spoke enthusiastically about blogging.

This week I’ve been focused on a conference article and a publication, both of which I need to finish by the end of the month, hence the light blogging. For the conference paper, a few observations:

  • For my paper on The Ring, I’ve been trying to work through the concept of the “mediated horror” film, which led me to rewatch The Blair Witch Project (IMDB). The creep factor is somewhat diminshed on a second viewing, of course, but it’s still a fascinating film, especially in its video verite style.
  • Because The Ring seems to be “about” the practice of watching horror films, specifically videotapes, I’ve been thinking about spectatorship issues recently. I think that one of my main observations is that many people who theorize horror spectatorship seem to emphasize watching the films with an audience. Obviously home video complicates that, and the intrusive presence of the TV is crucial to the power of the film. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to reduce the diffuse practices of private audiences to a singular televisual audience, but even several decades after the introduction of TV, audiences are still portrayed as passive recipients of the harmful presence of television (often associated with dangerous magnetic rays).
  • It’s well-documented that the shots in The Ring of the Morgan ranch were inspired by Andrew Wyeth paintings. The shots in the killer videotape conatin allusions to several Surrealist films. Not quite sure how that information fits my argument, but I don’t want to read those details as mere postmodern pastiche (and those details seem pretty important).

So, wow, that’s one year of blogging. Like Matt, I’ve found that blogging has allowed me to meet new friends and colleagues. I’ve been able to develop new ideas, and reading other people’s blogs always sparks my creativity. I think I’ll stick around for a while.

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Final Destination

Just a quick note or two about Final Destination, a mediocre horror movie about a high school kid who has premonitions in which he is able to see that someone is about to die. The premonitions start when he has a vision that the airplane he’s taking to Paris will explode soon after take-off. Because of his vision, he and five other passengers survive, but according to the logic of the film, they have “cheated death,” essentially creating an aberrant timeline that must be corrected. Soon afteer the crash, the survivors begin to die with the kid, Alex, identifying a “pattern” that explains the order in which each survivor is destined to die.

I don’t find the film interesting other than the model of time that it constructs and its strange emphasis on deaths by electrocution (perhaps an issue I could revisist), but the DVD itself includes some interesting special features. Most significantly, the DVD has a documentary on test screenings in which New Line employees discuss their methods for testing a film, explaining that they had originally produced a much different ending but that the original ending didn’t appeal to “postmodern Scream audiences” (their words, not mine). Might be a useful way of talking about how high-concept movies are made or for thinking about horror film audiences more broadly.

One strange inclusion: a card prediction game, based on the Zener card test, in which the viewer tries to guess which of five symbols will randomly appear on a card.

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More SCMS

I’m still recovering from the sensory overload of the SCMS conference. I’ll go ahead and mention that I was quite pleased overall with the panel–the three papers developed some useful connections regarding film and the digital. But after hearing at least two dozen papers in three days, I’m beginning to feel a little like Keanu Reaves in The Matrix while he’s in training (“I know Kung Fu”). So many exciting papers, and I don’t feel like I’ve assimilated half of what I heard. In general, I was impressed by the range of papers that I heard and really enjoyed the opportunity to meet other scholars with similar interests, and I’m planning to work through some of my conference notes at some point (Kathleen’s conference notes are fantastic, especially her notes on Mark Crispin Miller’s plenary address).

After our panel, a few of us had a delicious dinner at MidCity Cuisine (webpage may not be working), one of the better restaurants I’ve encountered in the city of Atlanta. MidCity Cuisine features chef Shaun Doty, and the menu focuses on “New American” cuisine (here’s one review). The calamari appetizer was very good, and for the main course, I had a fantastic duck dish (wish I could describe it better, but I have a mediocre food memory/vocabulary). The experience was wonderful, though. I left the restaurant with a great sense of well-being. Then I had to ride the train home with a bunch of kids leaving the Linkin Park concert, which was a lot less fun (not that I’m a snob or anything).

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