Archive for May, 2006

Time Travel Primer

It’s short-attention span day at The Chutry Experiment, as I continue to find things to blog about when I really should be doing other things. This time, via Craig Phillips at Notes from Underdog, a link to Jeffrey Anderson’s Time Travel Primer. Anderson breaks things into four basic categories, “Present Man in Past, Past Man in Present, Future Man in Present and Future Man in Past,” a move similar to one I tried to make in my dissertation (but without the gendered terminology, which Laura pointed out in the comments). I’m taking things in a slightly different direction in my book, but Anderson’s essay is a good summer afternoon read.

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Frameline30 in San Francisco

More film festivals I wish I could attend: I got an email tip the other day about Frameline30, the 30th San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival and a related conference, Persistent Vision Conference, which focuses on the future of queer media arts. As usual, the festival schedule is loaded with films I wish I could see. I know I have a few readers within driving distance the San Francisco area (or at least a short train ride), so if you have some time, take in a film or two.

Side note: the conference has a blog, with one recent entry reporting that Batwoman is coming out as a lipstick lesbian in an upcoming comic book story arc. Matt Florence, the conference co-coordinator, suggests the Wachowski Brothers to direct the inevitable film adaptation, but I’d love to see what Mary Harron and Guinevere Turner would do with this material.

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Promoting The War Tapes

I’ve been wanting to see Deborah Scranton’s documentary The War Tapes ever since I heard about it back in March, in large part because Scranton’s approach to the war documentary is an unusual one. Instead of aligning with a unit as an embedded reporter, Scranton gave cameras to three soldiers from the New Hampshire National Guard serving in Iraq, asking them to document their experiences, which were later edited and compiled into the final film by Scranton. The War Tapes has received a number of enthusiastic reviews, including these three from indieWire and a glowing review from Nora Ephron in The Huffington Post.

The official website offers quite a bit of information about the film, including outtakes and other reviews. The War Tapes opens this weekend in New York City, and the audience size in New York will likely affect how widely the film plays, so if you’re in the NYC area, check it out. A few other dates are scheduled, including a screening in DC’s E Street Theater starting June 30 (unfortunately I’m moving to Fayetteville that week and won’t be able to attend). Also, if your city is not yet scheduled, add yourself to Scranton’s Frappr map in order to show interest (BTW, the Frappr map is a really cool idea). There are already several others in the F’ville area who’ve expressed interest, and it would be fantastic to bring the film there.

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Last-Minute Screening Suggestion

Almost forgot to mention that the DC Jewish Cultural Center(DCJCC) will be screening Marian Marzynski’s documentary film Anya (In and Out of Foucs) tonight at 7:30 PM. According to the reviews I’ve read on the DCJCC website and in DC’s City Paper, the film makes extensive use of Marzynski’s home movie collection in telling his story and the story of his daughter, Anya. Worth noting: the director will be present at the screening.

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NYT Linkfest

I’m putting the finishing touches on an academic article on new media, and this New York Times article on MTV’s plans to develop broadcasting material for PDAs, cell phones, and video iPods, in shrt for the mobile screens that are becoming more commonplace. As the article points out, most of the shows are designed with the format in mind, running no more than three minutes, with lots of close-ups and static scenes. While the mobile video phenomenon is still in its earliest stages, one model speculates that the market for mobile TV will approach $27 billion by 2010. I’m not sure I have much more to say about the article right now–I’d rather expend that energy in my academic article, but it’s a pretty useful treatment of how visual entertainment is rapidly changing.

While I’m in the neighborhood, The Times also has an article on the history of The Internet Movie Database, which is probably my favorite website.

Finally, Andy pointed me to yet another Times article on the need for a film that will give science or scientists that same type of appeal that the Godfather films gave crime and that The West Wing gave politics. I’d like to believe that film will be called An Inconvenient Truth. But what I really want to mention about the article is its passing mention of Carlos Molinero and Lola Salvador’s The Mist in the Palm Trees, which recently played at Tribeca and has now spiralled to the top of my film wish list. Here’s the Times’ description:

Directed by Lola Salvador and Carlos Molinero, “Mist” is a presented as fictional documentary about a Spanish photographer and physicist, one Santiago Bergson. In it, the dead Bergson muses on his atomized life and lack of memory as old photographs and grainy home film clips shuffle past, over and over again, arcing from his childhood in Asturia, in northern Spain, to the cataclysmic climax of the Manhattan Project. In one much-repeated grainy clip, a man in a suit leaps headfirst over a row of chairs on the lawn and lands in a somersault.

I’ll be fascinated to see how Salvador and Molinero convey the idea of a “quantum film,” but as of right now, this sounds really cool.

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Best Blog Forward

Via Alex: Kevin Lim is requesting that bloggers write a post about their most popular blog entries and to tag the entry through Technorati with bestblogforward. Because I can never resist an excuse to go digging through my archives, I’m happy to comply. As Alex notes, Kevin suggests three different methods for selecting “most popular” entries: by comments, by hits, or by Google. Of course each approach will produce vastly different results, but that’s part of the fun.

One of my top entries via Google is a book meme that was circulating in winter 2005. The next entry on Google surprised me a little. When Sin City was in theaters, I wrote an entry, Visualizing Sin City about a website that compared panels from Frank Miller’s comic book with stills from the Robert Rodriguez film adaptation. Other top entries were my reviews of Crash, Gunner Palace and United 93. Similarly, I get a number of search hits for a post linking to New Ki’d’s pineapple salsa recipe.

In terms of comments, my most popular recent entries would be my top ten movie list for 2005 and my announcement that I have been hired for a tenure-track gig at Fayetteville State University. An entry from a couple of years ago on the Democratic primary for Georgia’s 2004 Senate race has drawn the most comments of any entry I’ve written, including several posts from the candidates themselves.

But I’m more interested in those entries that continue to get comments months or years after I’ve written them, and here two entries really stand out. The first was an entry I wrote on an ABC special about Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code back in 2003. The entry gets an unusual number of hits becaise one of my commenters misspelled “Magdalene,” and it continues to attract people who are curious about Brown’s conspiracy narrative, the novel’s gender politics, or other similar issues. I write the entry simply to express curiosity about the book and its cult status.

The other frequently visited entry mentions my sadness at learning about the execution of David Harris the very week I was teaching the documentary The Thin Blue Line. While Harris is clearly guilty of murder, I mentioned in passing that Errol Morris’s documentary had humanized him for me. The entry has continued to be one of my most visited, and commenters have used the entry to discuss the politics of the death penalty, to talk about the documentary, or in some cases to mourn Harris’s death. I might not have written the entry if I wasn’t teaching the film that summer, so I find it fascinating that the entry remains one of my most popular two summers after I initially wrote it. I think that speaks to the power of Morris’s documentary more than anything I had to say about it, but like the “Mary Magdalene” entry, I’m not sure that I intended the entry to be “popular” or what it means that these entries seem to be more popular thn others I’ve written.

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Time Perception

I had planned to blog this BBC radio broadcast on time perception a few days ago but happened to be particularly busy that week. The show focuses primarily on biological and physiological causes for experiences of time dilation, the perception that time is slowing down, during car accidents or other life-threatening situations. It’s worth a listen while you drink your morning (or early afternoon) coffee. Seen at The Salt Box among other places.

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Silverdocs 2K6

Oh, by the way, while my blog was down yesterday, I ended up posting about Silverdocs over at Indie Features 06. Here’s what I posted:

For some reason, my personal blog isn’t working right now, but I’ve been jonesing to blog all day (what a boring addiction), so I’ll finally blog something here several months after Sujewa invited me (to be fair, I did write one quick entry back in the day). But while I’m thinking about it, I though I’d do a quick mention that Silverdocs tickets are available and to note that some screenings have already sold out for non-passholders.

Silverdocs, for people who are unfamiliar is a documentary film festival held annually in Silver Spring, MD, just outside of Washington, DC. This year’s fest looks promising. So far, I’m planning to see Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s Jesus Camp, at the major risk of bringing back any number of traumatic childhood memories; Susan Dynner’s Punk’s Not Dead; Gary Tarn’s Black Sun, which focuses on visual artist Hugues de Montalembert’s experience going blind as an adult; Alexandra Lipsitz’s Air Guitar Nation (yeah, there’s a musical theme), which comes highly recommended by Sara Jo Marks; Steve Anderson’s Fuck, which focuses on the history and significance of the film’s title word; Stanley Nelson’s Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple; and Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantanamo, which looks like an incredibly powerful and potentially controversial film, in part because of its hybrid of documentary and re-enacted scenes.

At any rate, the film schedule looks excellent, and if you’re in the DC area, it’s certainly worth a quick Metro ride up to Silver Spring. Hopefully things will be up and running in my corner of blogworld soon.

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Giuliani Time

Kevin Keating’s Giuliani Time (IMDB) seeks to deconstruct the popular post-September 11 depiction of Rudolph Giuliani as “America’s Mayor,” the compassionate public figure that became a symbol of resiliance in the face of tragedy. Keating pursues this goal by looking at Giuliani’s early career as a federal prosecutor appointed by Ronald Reagan (Giuliani helped support the decision to turn away boatloads of Haitain immigrants who were escaping Baby Doc Duvalier’s oppressive regime) and, more crucially, Giuliani’s divisive record as mayor, in which he is credited with making the city safer in part through his “borken windows” policy, which argued that by focusing on petty crimes (graffiti, squeegee guys, panhandling), more harmful crimes would also decrease. At the same time, Keating reminds us that Giuliani’s police force also had a reputaion for racial profiling and for using unecessary force in subduing suspected criminals, symbolized most powerfully in the Amadou Diallo case. This behavior by the police became associated with the slogan, “Giuliani time,” which was shorthand for the mayor’s often draconian, and often hugely unpopular methods for running the city.

The documentary traces Giuliani’s emergence as a public figure, starting with his Brooklyn childhood and focusing specifically on allegations that members of his family may have been connected to organized crime. I have to admit that I didn’t find this evidence terribly convincing, and the documentary doesn’t really work through the significance of these connections. The film picks up steam when it traces Giuliani’s history as a federal prosecutor under Reagan, particularly his participation in preventing the Haitian immigrants from entering the United States, and from there Keating focuses primarily on Giuliani’s record as mayor and his implementation of the “broken windows” philosophy espoused by the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank.

Keating offers a number of counter-arguments to the “broken windows” thesis. While proponents of Giuliani are correct to state that crime rates decreased dramatically while Giuliani was mayor, Keating points out that violent crime rates were lower throughout the US, whether due to improved economic conditions nationally or other factors. He also notes that crime rates were already decreasing significantly under the previous mayor, David Dinkins, but that Giuliani managed to depict Dinkins as unfriendly to the police and weak on crime (in one segment we see Giuliani arguing that Dinkins cannot be tough on crime if he’s against the death penalty). Keating also documents the ways in which Giuliani’s “workfare” programs paid low wages and failed to offer the necessary job training that would allow workfare recipients to move on to more productive and satisfying work. The film also traces Giuliani’s attempts to defund the Brooklyn Museum of Art for displaying art that didn’t conform to his tastes before finally moving into the high-profile cases of police brutality and racial profiling symbolized by the Amadou Diallo case.

While Keating spends much energy deconstructing Giuliani’s reputation as “America’s mayor” and as an all-around nice guy, the film works best as an exploration of urban life, and I wish the film had taken that focus rather than seeking to discredit Giuliani as an individual. It seems likely that Giuliani Time serves as a pre-emptive strike against a potential run for the Presidency by America’s Mayor, but I found myself most intrigued when Keating interviewed the homeless and poor people whose lives were most deeply effected by Giuliani’s principles of workfare or the sidewalk artists whose work was destroyed under the auspices of the “broken windows” philosophy.

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Saturday Coffee Links

Just a quick note to say that the Wordherders’ server has been down for most of the last several days. I’m hoping that the problem is resolved, but we’ll see how things go. For now, a couple of pointers to articles I don’t want to lose.

First, a Washington Post article by William Booth on The Market, the business side of Cannes Film Festival. Booth explains that Hollywood studios now make the majority of their profits outside the United States and that many big Hollywood films, whose budgets now average $100, are made with international audeinces in mind. He points out, in particular that films that bombed in the US box office, Master and Commander and The Island, actually made big bucks oversaes (Booth attributes the success of The Island in South Korea to the real-life genetic engineer who notoriously faked his research data). While I was well aware of the fact that most Hollywood films make major profits overseas, Booth also lists what kinds of films tend to do well in what countries, with horror playing well in Spain, comedy in Australia, and raunchy sex comedies (such as American Pie) in Germany. The number one movie in France right now? Robin Williams’ RV. Mon dieu!

Also worth noting, Jamison Foser’s Media Matters essay arguing that “the defining issue of our time is the media.” For the most part, Foser revisits many of the claims already established in Eric Alterman’s What Liberal Media? and similar texts that dispute the notion of a liberal media. But I mention Foser’s essay because he addresses what he describes as a “pattern” of depicting progressives (Al Gore, Hillary Clinton) as stiff or insincere and conservatives (Bush, McCain, Giuliani–more on him later) as real or authentic, including this Jacob Weisberg article in which he faults Hillary for being politically calculated in reporting the contents of her iPod playlist wile giving Bush a pass for a similarly narrow list of “baby boomer” rock and praising classical pianist Condi Rice for including a mix of classical (Brahms) and pop on her iPod. Foser tears apart Weisberg’s artcile with far more enrgy than I have, but his essay is worth pointing out because a similar tactic is once again being deployed to discredit Al Gore and, by extension, his new documentary An Inconvenient Truth, in this case by Jonah Goldberg, who attempts to use apparent discrepancies in Gore’s records and his public recollections to foster the illusion that Gore is aloof or that everyting he says is politically calculated. I think the one issue I have with the Foser article, however, is that it doesn’t explain why these narratives work so well. I think te assumption is that news audiences are passive dupes who accept the storylines they are fed by the media, but I don’t think that’s an adequate description of what is happening, and I’m less convinced that there is a media conspiracy against liberalism (even if prominent media owners such as Rupert Murdoch are conservative). I don’t have time to work through this question in further detail right now, but I think it’s worth pointing out the ways in which members of the media are framing the reception of Gore’s film (and his rumored candidacy in the 2008 presidential election).

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Fly Like an American Eagle

Or not. My return trip from my adventure in Fayetteville ended up taking much longer than I expected due to phantom fires, flat tires, and other unexplained delays that left me plenty of time to read in the Raleigh airport. I drove up to Raleigh from F’ville with plenty of time to spare, dropped off my rental car, and settled in for an anticipated quick read while waiting to board the plane. My fellow passengers and I board teh first plane, and just as we’re about to take off (or so it seems), the plane slowly grounds to a stop. I tentatively look up from my book to see our airplane surrounded by fire engines and security people, but my book, Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country, is a pretty good read (I particularly like his illustrations), so I don’t pay that much attention until the pilot announces that a fire has been detected in the cargo section of the plane. “We don’t believe there is a fire,” he adds. “But we have to check things out anyway. There appears to be some smoke, but that’s probably just from the fire extinguisher.” There was no fire, but we were compelled to change planes. We climb of the plane, back into the terminal, and wait.

I finish the Vonnegut book, which is a god read, if a little short (I started reading it that morning at the F’ville Barnes and Noble). I move on to my second book, Alberto Fuguet’s The Movies of My Life: A Novel, a coming-of-age story narrated by an adult seismologist, Beltran, about the movies that most shaped his childhood, which was divided between Los Angeles and Santiago, Chile. Some of the connections between movies and the narrator’s life were a bit heavy-handed, but the novel is a fun read, a playful take on popular culture and personality. One of the framing devices for the novel: Beltran mentions that his grandfather gave him a copy of David Wallechincky and Amy Wallace’s Book of LIsts (the 1976 edition, I’m not sure if this is the right one), a book that I also cherished as a trivia- and knowledge-obsessed kid. The list format works pretty well and Fuguet effectively depicts how Beltran was affected by American popular culture (most of the films he lists are made by Hollywood studios). Of course it reminded me of blogging and my own compulsion to review and list every film I’ve seen, but we won’t get into that.

While I’m reading Movies, arrangements are made to put us into a second plane scehduled to land in DC. The second plane has a flat tire or something. At any rate, a tire needs changing. Our flight is delayed yet again. I finish my second book. I contemplate going to buy others but am afraid of being left stranded in the Raleigh airport while my fellow passengers find their way back to DC. Instead I start back on Jane Jacobs’ Dark Age Ahead, which I believe is the last book Jacobs published. In the book, Jacobs describes a process of “decay” in five major “pillars” of society: family, education, community, science, and self-policing in the professions. Jacobs manages to avoid making her book read as a jeremiad, but the book is a sobering read nonetheless.

But it’s difficult not to think about Jacobs’ arguments about urban planning as I exchange life in DC for life in F’ville. I had hoped to avoid living in one of those cookie-cutter complexes, but in a town such as Fayetteville, there simply aren’t enough of those apartments available, the downtown still too small and undeveloped. In fact, it had been abandoned for some time, though it was showing signs of life when I walked around there the other morning. Developers are planning to build some loft apartments. Hopefully when that happens even more businesses, especially local businesses, will find their way downtown. I finished the Jacobs book around the time I stepped off the subway in Hyattsville (at least the trains were running on time), and while the delays were annoying, I think the airline handled things well enough. But, yeah, it was a long day, much longer than I’d expected.

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A Place to Be Somebody

Spent the last two days driving around Fayetteville looking for the perfect apartment for next year. I didn’t find that apartment, but I found a decent, slightly older complex that should be suitable, at least for the year or two I’ll need to decide if I want to buy. The apartment itself is relatively large (about 900 square feet) with an extra bedroom that I can use as an office and plenty of wall space for my bookshelves (why couldn’t I choose a field that requires less reading?). My complex also has a pool, a tanning bed, and a sand volleyball court, all of which I will likely never use (okay, maybe the pool).

I’ve been intrigued by my apartment hunting process this time around, not because I’m particularly good at it, but because I think my process says a lot about my personality. I’ve moved three times since 2000, and with every move I’ve spent at least one and usually two or three full days looking at every apartment I can find, often driving randomly down interesting streets with the hope of finding something cool. The search is often very frustrating and I wind up with so many pamphlets that I can no longer match them to the appropriate complex (and in fact many of them are virtually identical), but in the long run, I think this process is vaguely reassuring, providing me with the illusion that I’ve found the best apartment possible when in fact I’m probably too tired to look elsewhere. But the search process also teaches me a lot about the city, the flows of traffic, the logic of certain neighborhoods, and the location of some independent coffeehouses. And this time, driving around Fayetteville has also habituated me to driving again, which will eventually become useful (at some point I want to write an entry on my year without a car, but that may not happen for a while).

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Sir! No Sir!

It is impossible to watch David Zeiger’s documentary about the GI antiwar movement during Vietnam, Sir! No Sir! (IMDB), in 2006 without thinking about the war in Iraq, and the producers of the film have worked with groups such as Iraq Veterans Against the War to campaign against the war in Iraq by providing free DVDs of Sir! No Sir! to active duty and deployed soliders. More crucially, the activist, agit-prop spirit of the film inspires action through its focus on the Vietnam soldiers’ acts of resistance. But what I found most compelling about the film, and what will make Sir! No Sir! an important document long after the Iraq War, was its use of archival materials to remind audiences of a history of protest that has been lost, if not entirely, rewritten in the years since the Vietnam War.

Specifically the film features extensive TV coverage of the acts of rebellion of thousands of American soldiers against the war, as well as lesser known documents such as Newreel films about the soldiers’ acts of resistance. The film also featured an extended discussion of the underground newspapers produced by the soldiers, primarily using typewriters and mimeograph machines as their “press” (the film’s website provides links to several libraries with extensive holdings of these GI newspapers), and as a media historian, I’m fascinated by this do-it-yourself use of media.

In addition, the film documents the coffeehouse culture that grew up around many of the military bases where soldiers were preparing to go to war, giving some sense of the culture of resistance as well as the documents associated with it, and what fascinated me about the courage of soldiers who saw what was happening in Vietnam and joined the anti-war movement. In Bruce Patterson’s review of the film, he describes in some detail his experiences in the anti-war movement. Among other activities, he contributed to the Bragg Briefs, a GI paper distributed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Sir! No Sir! also explores how the protests against Vietnam have been rewritten, particularly the urban myth that soldiers were routinely spat upon in airports by hippies. The film features Jerry Lembcke, who has challenged the credibility of this myth in his book, The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory, and the Legacy of Vietnam. The film demonstrates in some detail how films such as Rambo have managed to rewrite these protest narratives. While the film spends less time thinking about how andwhy history gets rewritten, its true value is in offering compelling images of the very significant GI anti-war movement during the Vietnam War.

Sir! No Sir! is currently touring the US, playing in a few theaters a week before being released in July on DVD. It’s scheduled to play in DC through Thursday at the E Street Theater.

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Code Blue

Brandeis University American studies professor Thomas Doherty has a timely op-ed article in the Washington Post drawing connections between the release of The Da Vinci Code and the old Hays Code that imposed constraints on the content of Hollywod films. Doherty opens by noting that past generations of American Catholics would have greeted a film with Da Vinci’s anti-Vatican conspiracy theories with massive protests designed to “bring Hollywood to its knees.” I happened to notice a few picketers at the Gallery Place Theater in Chinatown (I was in the neighborhood while waiting for a movie at E Street), but the small scattering of protesters drew little attention from the bored pedestrians rushing past them on the way in to the movie megalplex or one of the neighboring bars or restaurants.

As Doherty points out, however, the Catholic Church–or at least a few powerful members of the church–once maintained tremendous control over the content of Hollywood films. The Hays Code was authored by publisher Martin J. Quigley and the Jesuit priest Daniel A. Lord in an attempt to “clean up” Hollywood films:

A deeply Catholic text, the Code was no mere list of Thou-Shalt-Nots but a homily that sought to yoke Catholic doctrine to Hollywood formula: The guilty are punished, the virtuous are rewarded, the authority of church and state is legitimate, and the bonds of matrimony are sacred.

I’m inclined to ask what changed. Doherty suggests that “the post-World War II revolution in morals and manners” is a major factor, and he’s no doubt right about that. But with the ascendence of the evangelical movement and the emphasis on morality there, I think that’s hardly the only factor. To some extent, I think this relative indifference can be attributed to the fact that Hollywood films no longer hold the cultural centrality they had in the past. I don’t have time to write about this issue in as much detail as I would like (I’m flying out to Fayetteville to look for an apartment tomorrow), but I’ll be curious to see how Da Vinci performs at the box office and to see how the film fits within the ongoing discussions of religion and popular culture.

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10 Things I Hate About Commandments

More fake trailer fun, this time featuring Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. Thanks to Tony Pierce for the link.

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